Demystifying POSH: Navigating the World of Taboos and Uncertainty

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In today’s corporate environment, the term "POSH" often surfaces in official discussions, from company policies to committee formations and legal actions. However, the understanding of what POSH entails and its implications remains murky and ambiguous for many. Sexual harassment at workplaces is a global issue, and India, with its patriarchal roots, has historically lagged in addressing women's rights in this regard. Hence, the enactment of the "Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013"  popularly known as the POSH Act, was a significant step towards rectifying this gap.

POSH and its application extends to safeguarding women against such misconduct in various workplace settings in India, including corporate and domestic environments. The Act emphasizes the creation of a safe and respectful work environment, outlining measures for prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual harassment incidents.

The POSH Act defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome, sexually determined physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct, including but not limited to physical contact, sexual remarks, requests for sexual favors, and displaying adult content in any form, among others, creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment. However, depending on the context and impact, certain actions, such as giving respectful compliments, non-offensive jokes, or non-sexual touching, may not constitute sexual harassment. 

POSH Policy and Internal Committee

Employers with female employees are mandated to adopt and enforce a POSH Policy, detailing acts of sexual harassment, complaint mechanisms, and contact information of committee members. The Internal Committee, comprising at least 50% women and an external member, and appointed when there are more than 10 people employed by an employer, is responsible for addressing complaints and recommending action to the employer.

A recourse for victims

In cases where the organisation does not have an Internal Committee, complaints can be filed with the Local Committee appointed by the State Government for each district. Complaints must be filed within three months of the incident, or the last incident in a series, with provisions for extensions under valid reasons. Additionally, if the victim is incapacitated, complaints can be lodged with their consent by a legal heir or a designated individual, ensuring that victims have avenues for redressal and support.

Action against offenders

The  Internal Committee can recommend actions against offenders, including censure, suspension, or termination, depending on the severity of the offense. The action can also include deduction of compensation payable to the victim, community service, counseling, or any other action deemed fit by the management or board of directors. It is essential for the committee to conduct thorough investigations and ensure that the recommended actions are proportional to the severity of the offense. Confidentiality of complaints and proceedings is crucial throughout the process.

Supporting witnesses and colleagues 

Witnesses play a crucial role in addressing sexual harassment incidents by intervening safely, documenting what they observed, and providing support to victims. Colleagues can contribute to a safer workplace by creating a supportive environment, encouraging reporting, cooperating with investigations, respecting privacy, and maintaining confidentiality. It is essential to avoid retaliation, gossiping or victim- shaming and to ensure that all aspects related to the complaint are handled with sensitivity, confidentiality and professionalism.

Summing up 

It is imperative for employers to provide a safe working environment, and the Internal Committee plays a crucial role in preventing and addressing sexual harassment at workplaces. Awareness, prevention, and timely redressal are key in ensuring a respectful and safe workplace for all employees.