Since the Sexual Harassment of Women in Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013, all employers in India have had to compulsorily address sexual harassment against women at their workplaces.
But while merely complying with the set provisions of the Sexual Harassment law could keep employers free from ‘government’ trouble, it could still negatively impact them in other unanticipated ways.
Here are 5 reasons why employers need to stop trying to only comply with the law and do all they can to really prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at their workplaces:
Overcome limitations of the law: The current sexual harassment law in India only offers protection and reparation to female victims of the offence. So, employers who only comply with the law will end up trying to prevent, prohibit, and redress sexual harassment faced by only women, and not the others, in their workplace.
As a result, these employers may also unintentionally reinforce the idea that sexual harassment is a “women’s issue” and in turn, harbour an environment of gender inequality in their organisation.
In the long-term, such employers may have to deal with an overall “lax” employee attitude towards prevention of sexual harassment at their workplace. They will also have to face the negative effects (on their employees and overall business) resulting from their decision to only “partially” address the issue of sexual harassment at their workplace.
Fulfill moral obligation towards employees: Besides their legal obligations towards their workforce, all employers have a moral obligation to offer their employees a harassment-free workplace. This obligation arises from the fact that individuals, and consequently their surroundings, can be severely affected if they are subjected to degrading or abusive behaviour of any kind.
Failure to protect their employees from this risk can weaken their mental and physical health, lower their productivity and creative output, increase their absence from work, affect their career prospects, expose them to gossip, defamation and public scrutiny, and much more.
Maintain your brand image: Employers who do not “walk the talk” of their marketing/advertisement messages and choose to only comply with basic legal requirements to address issues as debilitating as sexual harassment can also end up seriously damaging their brand reputation.
In the past one year alone, the world has seen the reputation of several big brands crumble almost overnight on account of sexual harassment cases. From the global transportation company Uber to the movie-producing Weinstein Company, these strong brands were reduced to nearly nothing as a result of public outrage over sexual harassment cases in these companies.
While the Weinstein Company filed for bankruptcy only four months after sexual harassment allegations against it founder Harry Weinstein were made by several A-list female actors, Uber was temporarily boycotted and even banned in some parts of the world.
In India, Arunabh Kumar of the web entertainment firm The Viral Fever (TVF) stepped down as CEO after sexual harassment allegations were made against him. As a result, the firm faced extensive damage to its brand reputation and even a loss in investor support on account of the issue.
Reduce legal costs: Employers who make efforts to prevent, prohibit or redress sexual harassment at their workplace with an aim to only comply with the basic requirements of the law may ironically also find themselves running into several legal issues.
Take the case of Uber, for example. Although the company had policies and redressal mechanisms in place to address sexual harassment, many of the victims/witnesses did not receive any protection or reparation from the company. Instead, an Uber employee even claimed he was fired after he complained to the company’s HR about the mistreatment of the women in his team.
But what really exposed the ugliness of this underlying more-than-tolerant attitude towards sexual harassment was when Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, decided to blog about how none of her sexual harassment complaints in the company were taken seriously. This widely read blog soon forced Uber to hire law firms to investigate the sexual harassment complaints and other issues in the company.
All in all, Uber has had to bear huge legal costs that could have easily been avoided if they had addressed sexual harassment correctly.
Prevent POSH efforts from backfiring: Efforts towards prevention of sexual harassment (POSH) can also dangerously backfire if employers choose to only meet the minimum requirements of the law. That’s because when sexual harassment training, policies and redressal mechanisms are not communicated/understood clearly, they can end up being ignored or even misinterpreted by an organisation’s workforce.
As per the law, all employers in India with 10 or more employees have to ensure their employees are regularly made aware of their sexual harassment policies and related redressal mechanisms. Yet, the inability of many employers to successfully create impactful and relevant communication to raise awareness on the subject can cause their employees to seek redressal from an external body first—and not the appropriate forums within their organisation.
Emotionally intelligent employers invest in POSH awareness programmes that include experiential training, simple and relevant content (even use colloquial language, if required) and a highly impactful mode of communication to personally drive home their message of zero tolerance towards sexual harassment.
Companies such as PepsiCo India, Amex, Airtel and British Telecom (BT) are already leading the way in this regard.
Since 2010, Be.artsy has been using a blend of art, technology and emotional intelligence to enable several organisations in the country to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at their workplaces.
Our POSH campaign ‘Mind Bugs’ for PepsiCo India even won the company’s prestigious Harvey C Russell Inclusion Award.
For further information, please contact me, Shikha Mittal, at: [email protected]