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Sexual Harassment vs Promotion – A Case Study through PoSH Act


Sexual Harassment vs Promotion – A Case Study through PoSH Act

Do you think it is a consensual relation if someone is pressurized for sexual favors in return for advancements in career?  

Does the PoSH Act address a situation like the above?

What if there is a malicious complaint due to workplace jealousy?

In the upcoming sections, we will explore the answers to such questions. The PoSH act seems to encompass all forms of sexual harassment but one form which still remains a bit controversial is whether asking for sexual favors in return for promotions is punishable or not. Also, if an employee agrees to the sexual favors then it will be counted as consensual relation or exploitation?

People across the judicial domain have varied opinions on this. However, most of the experts of law agree that even if the victim gives her consent in the situations mentioned above, it is a case of exploitation and should be punished. 

Impact of PoSH Act on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The PoSH law seeks to empower women to fight against sexual harassment at workplace. Sexual harassment law has helped many women get justice over the years for the sexual harassment they have faced in the workplace. The introduction of such law has forced the perpetrators to find new ways to harass women. These people with the rotten mindset are now finding other ways to exploit some weakness of their victim. Among young people, a common weakness is their career for which youngsters are very serious. Women around the globe are working really hard to achieve their career goals and reach a respectable position in their organization. However, this eagerness to advance their career is used by sexual predators in the management to weave their webs around vulnerable employees. This results in female employees being pressurized into maintaining a physical relationship with them in order to save their careers. These people in the powerful positions leave no stone unturned to exploit their position in taking advantage of innocent victims in return for promotions and other favors. 

Position of Experts on these Cases

#MeToo movement was started in 2017 in Hollywood and by the end of 2018, it gained immense momentum in India. It was a movement where working women were naming and shaming the sexual offenders they had faced in their life on social media. Most of the stories were true, and many offenders (generally high-profile men) did apologize for their behavior in the public domain. But, like the PoSH act, this movement also gave rise to many false claims coming out on social media just for the sake of personal vendetta against the prominent personality or to gain popularity.

Many of the cases raised in the #MeToo movement were of similar nature where a man in a higher position was found to be abusing his power to exploit the women working under them. Also, this act polarised the views of experts from different points of view.

Whether a compromise should be treated as exploitation or as consensual favor seeking by women.” Some experts viewed that treating these cases as exploitation is wrong as in the end, it’s the women who are choosing to maintain a relationship or not.”

The thing which is obviously wrong with the above statement is that when you close all the doors for an employee in her career and the only choice left for her is to either quit her job or compromise, then you are forcing them to be in a position to be exploited.  And therefore, even Courts have rejected this argument of the consensual relationship as it observed that asking for sexual favors in return for promotions is an offense as it tries to put the female employee in a vulnerable state and takes advantage of it. 

Other Aspect of this Scenario

Since the introduction of the PoSH act, it has also been used extensively as a tool to misuse against fellow colleagues or management of the organization. Sometimes, fellow colleagues out of jealousy of the female employee (who has been promoted) start spreading false rumors about her having a sexual relationship with the manager of the organization. These rumors could lead to that female employee feeling unnecessarily stressed. The employees sometimes also start questioning her character. All this could lead to that employee feeling disrespected and harassed. On the other hand, fake posh complaints against the managers stating that they asked for sexual favors are also increasing. These malicious complaints not only degrade the values of the organization but also puts a question mark on every new case being filed. It also decreases the overall credibility of other female employees of the company. These lingering issues where the matter of career advancements and promotions can be used extensively for extortion have put a dent in the accomplishment of the PoSH act. Therefore, various experts have widely stated in the public domain that proper posh & sexual harassment training is required in every organization to reduce the misuse of the act and aware employees of their rights in the act.

What Legal Options Are Available for Victims?

The victims in such cases where they are asked by any of their seniors to compromise and grant sexual favors to them for getting a promotion or saving their career could file a complaint in the Internal Complaints Committee. The committee will start an investigation based on the complaint and will help the victim by taking initial support measures like transferring the perpetrator to some other branch or a different team. If the victim feels at any instant that the ICC is not investigating the case properly or showing any bias towards the accused, then she can approach the local complaints committee of the district. In case of workplace bullying by colleagues by spreading rumors, an employee can reach the ICC if the rumors are sexual in nature and affecting their work. If the bullying is nonsexual then they can approach their managers to resolve the issue or take legal action against the colleague. In case of fake PoSH complaints against the management, the people from management can take legal action against the accuser once proven innocent by the ICC. They can also hire a legal firm to represent their case in any legal battle.  

What Role PoSH training Can Play?

Many organizations do not know how to set up a proper POSH complaint redressal system or constitute an internal complaints committee. Hiring an external member for the internal complaints committee is also an issue that organizations frequently face. The solution to all these problems lies in PoSH training of employees and management of the organization through a professional legal firm.

  • Conducting PoSH training of employees helps them to get aware of their rights under the PoSH Act. 
  • This helps women to come out and report any sexual misconduct from a college or a senior in the workplace and so, ensures a safe working environment. 
  • PoSH awareness training also enables employees to learn about fake PoSH complaints or what can be categorized as malicious complaints. This can reduce no. of false or fake complaints in the organization. 
  • Proper PoSH training for management makes them aware of the process to create a robust and effective complaint redressal system. 
  • It also helps the management to set up an internal complaints committee. 

How to Get PoSH Training for Employees

  • Contact a Legal firm that has experts with complete knowledge of the PoSH Act and have experience in conducting training sessions for employees in prestigious organizations. 
  • These firms mostly have professionals who have worked in the internal complaints committee of other organizations and can help in creating ICC in the new company. 
  • The experts can easily make employees understand the most technical terms of the Act clearly with their effective communication skills. 

Conducting PoSH training sessions for employees must be made mandatory so that the employees understand the consequences of sexual misconduct and what acts constitute workplace harassment. This will help in creating a more secure and tension-free environment for women at the workplace. 

On the other hand, the government and corporates should work to ensure smooth complaint redressal systems and investigation systems so that no woman should shy away from filing a complaint if she feels violated. Also, the approach of the investigating team should be non-prejudiced, and they should handle the investigation in a gender-neutral manner to ensure that neither the complainant nor the accused feel any injustice. Communication among employees to facilitate gender equality and respect in the workplace should be encouraged so that every employee understands the values of keeping a safe working environment for women.

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