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Handling POSH Complaints: A comprehensive guide for managers

Updated: 2 hours ago

Sexual harassment violates a person’s right to equality, to life, to live with dignity, to a safe environment, to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and the Rules thereunder (together, “POSH Laws”) were enacted with the intention to address sexual harassment of women at the workplace.

While the POSH Laws mandate that an internal complaints committee be formed by each organisation and the details of the members be shared with all the employees, not all employees are acquainted with their rights. This deficient implementation of the POSH Laws was also emphasised upon by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Aureliona Fernandas v. State of Goa and others[1]. The Apex Court further elucidated on the role of the organisations in implementation and generating awareness among its employees.

In light of such irregularities in implementation, we thought it prudent to highlight the role and responsibilities of anyone holding a managerial position in an organisation in the event a sexual harassment complaint is brought to them.

For most employees, their immediate supervisor is the first point of contact if any untoward incident occurs. If an incident of sexual harassment is brought to you by a subordinate, it is very important to extend support towards the employee and to deal with the issue with utmost care and sensitivity. While covering each unique angle is beyond reach, we have tried to highlight the most critical steps below*:

1. Listen actively and empathetically and validate the feelings of the co-worker without being defensive. Avoid judgment or scepticism of any kind, and reassure them that their well-being is of utmost importance. Provide them the comfort of being in a safe space and provide reassurance that anything that they tell you will be kept confidential.

2. Remain calm and composed. Be respectful and receptive to the person reaching out to you. Do not get aggravated from the information or initiate any action against the accused.

3. Do NOT offer you opinion or solutions or take any steps against the accused regardless of your relationship with the employee.

4. Maintain confidentiality of the information shared with you. Highlight that should they wish to go ahead and file a complaint, it may become necessary to reveal their identity.

5. Provide information to the co-worker of their options as next steps. Do not report any incident without the approval of your co-worker. Inform them about the internal complaints committee at your organisation, inclusive of the names of the members. Discuss briefly the investigation process explaining the steps of: (a) filing a written complaint with the internal complaints committee, (b) a copy of the same being submitted to the accused, (c) reply being filed by the accused, (d) investigation taking place based on the reply and the evidence presented, (e) witnesses being spoken to, if need be, (f) recommendation being made against the investigation. Depending on the intensity of the claimed offence, also present the option of filing an FIR.

6. Facilitate investigation in the event the co-worker decides to proceed with filing a complaint, assist them with filing their complaint. Further, provide the internal complaints committee with any necessary information, assistance, or evidence related to the complaint during the investigation process.

7. Provide support and resources by checking on the co-worker regularly during the investigation process to ensure their well-being and address any concerns or questions that they may have.

Receiving a sexual harassment complaint is a crucial moment for you to demonstrate your commitment towards creating a safe and respectful workplace for your team members. By responding promptly, listening empathetically, and taking appropriate action, you can help foster a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated, and the well-being and dignity of all employees is ensured.

*This list is prepared with the assumption that your organisation is in compliance with POSH Laws and has implemented a prevention of sexual harassment policy complete with appointing an internal complaints committee. If you would like to know more about complying with POSH Laws, please reach out to the support email at the bottom of this page.

[1] 2023 SCC OnLine SC 621


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