Normal living has taken a backseat with the arrival of the extraordinary novel coronavirus, and virtual reality has become the new normal. The current scenario, which requires global lockdowns, has created anxiety in the corporate community. Companies struggled with the problem for a long time before deciding to involve their staff in virtual employment. Working from home was quickly embraced by a wide segment of society. According to a recent Gartner study, 91% of HR directors have introduced work-from-home policies after the Covid-19 outbreak.
The workplace problems remained the same even after the paradigm change to the new normal. One of the most serious issues is the persistent sexual harassment of women in the workplace. According to a poll conducted by Southeast Asia, the Freedom of Expression Network (SafeNet), and the Never Okay Project, 86 of 315 respondents said they have been sexually harassed while working from home. Women are filled with dread and embarrassment as a result of such behaviors. Workplaces, which are supposed to safeguard people from harmful environments, have harmed women’s security.
Offensive remarks and overtones during video calls, sexual advances through various online portals, calls after office hours, undefined work hours, non-consensual image sharing, lewd calls, and messages, advancing personal questions from employees, inappropriate comments or jokes, and other offensive acts are all examples of virtual harassment. These issues keep cropping up, and they must be dealt with caution.
The Prohibition of Sexual Harassment Act of 2013 (or POSH) was enacted to protect women from workplace harassment and to provide a safe working environment with inclusive working spaces. The POSH Act defines sexual harassment as “any unwanted, sexually determined physical, verbal, or nonverbal action.” The question that this article is based on is whether the POSH Act applies to work-from-home situations or if it is solely limited to the actual workstation. Having said that, it is critical to diving into the act’s complexities by evaluating its scope and applicability.
Virtual sexual Harassement
The POSH Act 2013 was enacted to protect women at work from sexual harassment and provide a system for resolving complaints of sexual harassment. In terms of virtual sexual harassment, the legislation does not go far enough. “No woman should be subjected to sexual harassment at any workplace,” according to Section 3 of the statute. The phrase workplace must be thoroughly scrutinized to determine its extent and application.
Courts have used the idea of “notional extension” to interpret beneficent and benevolent laws designed to expand women’s protection at work on several occasions.
Workplace Interpretation about notional extension
Courts have used the idea of a notional extension to interpret rules regarding compensation to be granted to employees or workers who are injured during their job. Courts have ensured that advantageous legislation, such as the POSH Act, is construed generously to the theoretical extension, and the word “workplace” under the POSH Act has been given a broad meaning by the courts.
Both employment regulations and the POSH Act provide that the event must occur either “in” or “out” of the workplace. As a result, the court must consider the probable causative link between the occurrence and the employment to hold the appropriate employer liable. To determine such a relationship, the court must first define the extent of the workplace to comprehend the situation.
The concept of notional extension has been interpreted by the courts in numerous key cases. The Supreme Court held in Saurashtra Salt Manufacturing Co. v. Bai Valu Raja & Ors. that the idea of notional extension may be applied to an employer’s premises to encompass a region that a worker passes and re-passes on his way to and from the real place of work. The court went on to say that the scope of a workplace expansion must be determined by the facts and circumstances of each instance. Finally, the court sought to conclude that the employer’s premises are not confined to the physical borders of the office, but can be expanded beyond such limits.
Even while the breadth of the workplace would depend on the facts and circumstances of the case, and no one-size-fits-all definition can be accepted, the court stated that specific standards must be established to identify what constitutes a workplace. The following are some of them:
- Proximity to one’s workplace;
- Management control over the location/residence where a working woman resides; and
- The dwelling must be an extension of or adjacent to the workplace.
The problems of ensuring security have increased in the era of virtual reality, where growth has taken precedence. As a result, there is a pressing need to broaden the reach of legislation. The POSH Act, for example, has been generously construed by the court, extending the scope of the statute. The offense of sexual harassment occurring on an internet platform has been added to the legislation’s scope. The dynamics of the word “workplace” have shifted to be more inclusive rather than sticking to the traditional meaning. Such interpretations have opened up new avenues for workplace harassment and given safer workplaces new dimensions.