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From Complaint to Compromise Battle Against Sexual Harassment

Last month, I read an article in the India Today which in one of its pages in bold fonts had, Haath lagao toh current lagta hai: IAF pilot moves Jammu-Kashmir HC alleging sexual harassment by senior officer." Appalled as I always am by such news, it was definitely once again hard to digest something like this in the armed forces …where chivalry is considered to be the mark and character of men. According to the report, an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot had filed a case in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court alleging sexual harassment by her senior, a Wing Commander, additionally mentioning the unfair manner of inquiry conducted by the Internal Complaints Committee of the IAF.

There were severe allegations for demand of sexual favours, objectionable comments, inappropriate touching and lewd remarks such as, "'Le tujhe touch kiya ab kaise karegi apne aap ko sanitise?' On approaching the Internal Complaints Committee, she was not satisfied and found the proceedings to be unfair and biased, which led her to knock on the doors of the police and court. I continued following up on this case, until I read the order of the Hon'ble Judge on 20.05.2024, that during the pendency of the petition, the accused had issued a communication to the lady officer for settlement of the case, who accepted the same and then gave her no objection for quashing of the FIR.

Well, though I fail to comprehend why she succumbed and took to the compromise after having come this far, I do strongly believe that if proper awareness sessions were conducted such an incident might not have happened in the first place and if the Internal Complaints Committee was well trained to conduct an inquiry following due process of the law, the outcome of the case could have been different and within the four walls of the IAF, instead of the case being brought out in public and tarnishing the image of the IAF in broad daylight. Because it happens so that for the behaviour of one person, the entire institution is put in bad light.

We at Upceed Consulting Services therefore time and again stress awareness of the POSH Act. Though the law has been enacted for the last decade and in May 2023 the Supreme Court also issued directions that all institutions whether government or private must conduct orientation programmes, workshops, seminars and awareness programmes to upskill members of the committees and to educate women about the provisions of the law, little has been done so far with only one tenth of workplaces having implemented it, and in that several for just the sake of a tick off.

Organisations several times fail to understand the consequences of NOT implementing the POSH Act, which can be significant, multifaceted and boomerang on its face in the following manner:
  • Legal Consequences: Non-compliance with the POSH Act can lead to legal repercussions, including fines and penalties imposed by regulatory authorities. Organizations may face lawsuits from employees who have experienced sexual harassment and feel their complaints were not adequately addressed. The legal battles can damage the organization's reputation and result in financial losses due to legal fees, settlements, and court judgments.
  • Reputational Damage: Public exposure of sexual harassment incidents and organizational failures to address them can tarnish the company's reputation. Negative publicity can lead to loss of trust among customers, investors, and the general public, impacting the organization's brand image and market standing.
  • Employee Morale and Productivity: A workplace culture that tolerates or ignores sexual harassment can create a toxic environment, leading to low morale and decreased employee engagement. Employees may experience heightened stress, anxiety, and job dissatisfaction, resulting in decreased productivity and increased turnover rates.
  • Human Resource Challenges: Difficulty in recruiting and retaining talented employees due to concerns about workplace safety and organizational culture. It may also lead to increased workload for HR departments which, though not under their purview, may end up in managing complaints, investigations, and legal issues related to sexual harassment, when not handled appropriately by the Internal Complaints Committee, resulting in a bigger blunder.
  • Financial Costs: Costs associated with legal proceedings, settlements, and damages resulting from lawsuits and regulatory penalties. Loss of productivity and potential revenue due to absenteeism, turnover, and decreased employee performance resulting from a hostile work environment.
  • Loss of Competitive Advantage: Organizations known for failing to address sexual harassment may lose their competitive edge in attracting and retaining top talent. Negative perceptions of the company's workplace culture can deter potential customers, partners, and investors from engaging with the organization.
  • Regulatory Sanctions: Regulatory authorities may impose sanctions, including revocation of licenses or permits, for organizations found to be in violation of the Act. Repeat offenses or egregious violations may lead to more severe regulatory actions, such as closure of business operations or criminal charges against responsible individuals.
Overall, the consequences of failing to implement the POSH Act extend beyond legal and financial implications to encompass broader impacts on organizational culture, employee well-being, and corporate reputation. Promoting a positive and respectful workplace culture is crucial for the well-being of employees and the success of any organization. It is crucial for organizations to prioritize compliance with the POSH Act and take proactive measures to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace.

By doing so and ensuring that Internal Committee members are well-versed in handling complaints, organizations can enhance the effectiveness and credibility of their processes for preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. Creating awareness about and implementing policies for prevention of sexual harassment is an important step towards fostering a safe and inclusive environment.

We at Upceed Consulting Services typically assist organizations in implementing POSH. We are that one-stop- shop! Do contact Upceed Consulting Services and make your workplace a happy and respectful one!



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