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Stop Sexual Harassment at Virtual Workplace

The whole globe was taken off guard and thrown into chaos by the COVID-19 epidemic. People were compelled to stay inside, and businesses were forced to switch to a work-from-home environment. Remote work became the new standard, and the home office expanded. Zoom, Skype, and Meet have become the go-to options for corporate meetings. 

The surge in violence against women and girls caused by the ensuing stay-at-home directives has been proved by a wealth of statistics and first-hand accounts to be severe enough to be considered a pandemic in and of itself or a “shadow pandemic.” Although domestic violence has received a lot of publicity, we draw attention to another aspect of the shadow epidemic: professional sexual Harassment. It is the most common kind of violence against women and girls worldwide and harms workers’ physical and mental health, job trajectories, and financial status.

Even though workplace sexual Harassment is widely seen as gender discrimination and a violation of human rights, and even though it is illegal in more than 75 countries, it is nonetheless pervasive. Laws and market incentives have both failed to eradicate it. 

Even though workplace sexual Harassment is widely seen as gender discrimination and a violation of human rights, and even though it is illegal in more than 75 countries, it is nonetheless pervasive. Laws and market incentives have both failed to eradicate it. 

Given the pandemic’s unpredictability and digital technology advancements, remote working will continue to exist in some capacity. Additionally, many businesses are considering allowing their staff to continue working remotely in the future. Therefore, now is a crucial time for organizations and policymakers to examine and adapt their internal regulations to reflect changes in working conditions, including the rise of remote working.

Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown, according to experts, has drastically increased the number of workplace sexual harassment occurrences, and sexual predators have allegedly discovered new ways to harass and abuse women. In a study undertaken by a campaign organization located in the European Parliament, a high proportion of women claimed to have experienced new types of sexual Harassment online, such as “zoom-bombing.” 

Furthermore, a recent investigation by the UK-based charity Rights of Women revealed that remote Sexual Harassment in the workplace was made worse by the lockdown last year. Examples of this type of sexual Harassment at work include:

  • Recording video conversations without permission and posting the recordings on social media.
  • Supervisors are pressuring female coworkers to attend after-hours meetings.
  • Using phallic emojis.
  • Promising to send images.

The COVID-19 pandemic epidemic has been linked to a five-fold increase in incidents of online sexual Harassment, according to the National Commission for Women in India.

 

Understanding virtual sexual Harassment and Posh laws in India

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace, often known as the “POSH Act 2013”, is the main law in India that aims to protect women against sexual harassment at work. The POSH Act 2013 defines sexual Harassment as any unwanted act or behaviour (whether directly or by implication), including physical contact and advances, demands or requests for sexual favours, remarks with sexual overtones, the display of pornography, and any other unwanted sexual behaviour that is physical, verbal, or nonverbal. Therefore, behaviours like making sexual innuendos and acting abusively or intimidatingly would need to be classified as sexual Harassment.

Virtual sexual Harassment takes place in cyberspace, i.e. on an electronic platform; hence inappropriate behaviour that would qualify as Harassment may also be subject to the Information Technology Act of 2000’s prohibitions. Online abuse or online violence are typical terms used to describe this.

What are the Practical Measures?

Many operational challenges appear when all or a portion of an organization’s personnel work remotely. With remote working, it is more difficult for organizations to identify and resolve sexual harassment violations. We advise enterprises to at least take into account the following:

  • With remote working: it is more difficult for organizations to identify and resolve sexual harassment violations. Many operational challenges appear when all or a portion of an organization’s personnel work remotely. We advise enterprises to at least take into account the following:
  • Set expectations: When working remotely, your staff members should be informed of what constitutes sexual Harassment and the proper protocol to follow. In addition to teaching workers how to dress correctly and keep the conversation focused on business, organizations may also consider making POSH training for employees mandatory. This will ensure staff members understand what is suitable and what is not during video calls.
  • Publicize reporting procedures: Unambiguous instructions on reporting any sexual Harassment should be given to employees. The POSH policy should be simple to use and accessible via the company’s intranet or an analogous source that can be quickly accessed from a distance.
  • Be responsive: An employee’s report of sexual Harassment should be addressed delicately, carefully, and swiftly. Sexual harassment victims frequently experience tremendous emotions of guilt and humiliation and worry about being blamed for the occurrence, making reporting it difficult. Employers must consider that workers may have expended much time and anxiety to reach the point where they may express their grievances. Furthermore, it is quite distressing to have done so and then be faced with silence. Organizations must also remember that if staff members feel their concerns are not taken seriously, they will be less likely to raise similar issues in the future.

Destroying the Power Culture

A substantial amount of evidence points to power imbalances as the cause of workplace sexual harassment. Physical access is not the primary cause. It is a mirror that shows how powerful men are over women. Additionally, a high-level job does not protect a worker from sexual Harassment. When women and men in positions of Authority are on an equal footing, women’s power and autonomy might breed resentment and make them more susceptible to sexual Harassment. 

The only thing that will ultimately end sexual Harassment in the workplace and lead to the creation of more virtual and actual workplaces is the disruption of these patriarchal ideals.

In the epidemic world, we are all attempting to adapt. More and more organizations are enabling their workers to work from home to secure their safety. Unfortunately, the number of cases of virtual sexual Harassment has increased along with the rise in remote employment.

These are difficult times, not only for women who must shoulder the added responsibility of caring for children who are enrolled in online classes but also for men who are suddenly faced with new responsibilities and the insecurities that all genders experience when it comes to the future of the workplace or the death of a loved one. All of these will significantly influence employees’ mental health, which might lead to an increase in sexual Harassment even when they work from home.

According to Pew Research Center research, 41% of American people have experienced some form of internet abuse. 

What’s more shocking is that one in five persons have encountered severe instances of online sexual Harassment.

In 2019, India Inc. reported a 14% rise in sexual harassment complaints compared to 2018, according to a survey by ComplyKaro Services.

Since subtler types of sexual harassment are on the rise in the work-from-home environment and many individuals aren’t even aware they are encountering it, experts say it will be difficult to map occurrences this year.

Requests to keep the video on in all virtual meetings, WhatsApp questions about what one is wearing or doing, uninvited calls or messages at strange hours, and sexist remarks have all relocated to the virtual workspace in place of extended office stares.

I receive a lot of questions from businesses and female employees on what constitutes (virtual) sexual Harassment and how to manage such incidents because I am a POSH Consultant and an advocate for women’s empowerment.

Is it considered sexual Harassment if someone says, “Please move on the camera; I can’t see you properly”? Depending on whether the remark made you feel uncomfortable

Thus, I decided to go into depth on what constitutes virtual Sexual Harassment.

Under the POSH Act 2013, a workplace is specifically described. For a layperson, though, it is the location of the employee’s place of employment, which may also be their home.

Considered part of virtual sexual Harassment is the preceding:

  1. Demanding that all virtual meetings be held using video, especially beyond office hours
  2. Taking pictures of female coworkers during a meeting Woman getting unwanted materials and stuff that has been shared about her
  3. Comments or rumours regarding the victim’s sexual orientation or behaviour
  4. Sharing sexually graphic images without permission. The accused may distribute this material via WhatsApp or post it on their social media profiles or blogs.
  5. Using sexist or otherwise offensive language to characterize the victim
  6. Sending sexually explicit messages over a digital channel
  7. Personal remarks on the individual’s social media profiles
  8. Unsuitable or sexist jokes to “lighten” the atmosphere
  9. Violating the dress code when participating in virtual conferences
  10. Managers pressuring staff to participate in “night suit” zoom parties

What Causes Virtual Sexual Harassment?

  • There is a pervasive feeling of employment instability among employees with Covid19. The accused perpetrators of sexual Harassment are often those in positions of Authority in the reported cases. As a result, there are more occurrences of Harassment now.
  • The irony of the scenario is that because most people associate Harassment with physical contact, individuals don’t recognize what they’re doing is unlawful. Additionally, because they have such a strong patriarchal attitude, most men are unaware that their actions constitute sexual Harassment.
  • Virtual contact gives the abuser anonymity, which might encourage victims to behave in ways they would not normally do and get away with in person.
  • Due to the abrupt commencement of COVID-19, many firms have not drawn up teleworking rules or agreements that would serve to direct employees in this new remote office environment.

How can you protect your personnel against sexual Harassment on the online platform?

  1. Since we spend a lot of time online at home and work, virtual sexual Harassment has become a significant but sometimes ignored problem. 
  2. Due to ignorance, filing complaints is more challenging in a WFH situation.
  3. But it has also made obtaining evidence simpler. Employees have videotaped meetings, took screenshots, and other actions.
  4. Online Women Harassment has been included in the definition of “workplace harassment” by the Rajasthan High Court (“Court”) in the recent case of Sanjeev Mishra vs Bank of Baroda. Here are some tips for safeguarding your staff.

The Petitioners View

POSH At Work: In this case, the petitioner argued that the Authority lacked jurisdiction since the complainant and petitioner were located in two (2) separate States. Since the petitioner and the complainant lived in separate States and their communications were received after business hours, the petitioner could not have been charged, and no investigation could have been made. It was argued that under the Bank of Baroda Officer Employees’ (Discipline and Appeal) Regulations, 1976 (“Regulations”), an investigation may only be started if sexual Women Harassment is committed at work and when an employee is present.

The Court’s Verdict

The Court ruled that in the current digital environment, a person’s “workplace” should be viewed as one workplace on a digital platform for workers who work in several branches of the same firm or various States. In response to the petitioner’s second argument, the Court reasoned that even if the petitioner sent obscene messages outside of work hours, knowing full well that the complainant is an employee of the Bank holding a subordinate position, it would still constitute workplace sexual Women Harassment and would presumptively fall under the definition of misconduct under the Regulations.

  1. Companies should update their rules on sexual Harassment to mention “work from home explicitly.”
  2. Companies must explain to workers how to handle complaints resulting from working remotely. To avoid a major issue, HR must take action and stop sweeping the issues under the rug.
  3. To assist individuals in navigating this unfamiliar area, sensitization seminars should resume. Companies must define their obligation as employers and demonstrate to workers where the line between work and personal life should be drawn.
  4. Additionally, employees must be aware of the dangers of boundary-crossing text messages. Comment in person may not have the same connotations as one sent by text.
  5. Employees should understand that sexual Women Harassment of any kind, whether in person or online, will not be accepted by their employers. Employees who report being sexually harassed online or in person should immediately take action and develop a specialized complaint mechanism for those cases.
  6. Encourage senior management to set an example of zero tolerance for Women’s Harassment. This implies that they should serve as role models for other workers by creating a safe atmosphere for women to work in, taking complaints seriously, and supporting any changes that could result from online sexual Harassment.
  7. Make it simple and safe to report Harassment. Provide several ways for people to report issues, such as a web form, an email address, and a phone number. Encourage staff to report instances of online sexual Harassment.
  8. Take immediate action after receiving reports. Employees will receive the incorrect message if reports are disregarded or investigations are delayed.

Conclusion

Sexual Harassment is a kind of unlawful gender discrimination, and online and offline sexual Women Harassment are crimes. Both types of sexual Harassment have the potential to injure the victim seriously, and people who are harassed in this way may experience emotional anguish. Women’s Harassment that occurs online can occur without face-to-face contact between the harasser and the victim.

Shivani Bose has played a key role in adopting POSH across sectors and is a qualified POSH trainer. She has facilitated several courses on gender sensitization and POSH awareness and has provided counseling to numerous individuals who have experienced problems with their mental health and gender prejudice. She serves on the ICC’s external panel for several corporations.

For the execution of Prevention of Sexual Women Harassment (POSH Act 2013) legal compliance, Proud HR Services is a full-service partner. To proactively create safer work environments and provide sexual Women Harassment (POSH) training both physically and electronically, we collaborate with businesses on case resolution and policy. Additionally, we offer training to ICC and every employee. We also support the appointment of external IC members. The tasks and responsibilities of each member will be determined and made clear.

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