Q. What is harassment and how different is it from bullying?
Harassment can take many forms. It includes verbal acts like name-calling, posting of inappropriate images and graphics, written statements, or other actions that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating. Harassment of students may come from other students or from school employees such as teachers, coaches, or other staff. To constitute sexual harassment, the conduct must be of a sexual or gender-based nature.
Q. What constitutes bullying?
Bullying is a term used to describe certain forms of unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. It is an act of intimidating a “weaker person” to make them do something. It can be a repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work, in the campus, or during field visits, and/or in the course of employment which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity.
The following are examples of the type of behaviour that may constitute bullying. The examples are illustrative but not exhaustive:
- physical abuse or threats of abuse
- regular humiliation, ridicule, belittling efforts – often in front of others
- insulting or unnecessarily commenting on the appearance of another person
Q. What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication) namely:
- physical contact and advances; or
- a demand or request for sexual favours; or
- making sexually coloured remarks; or
- showing pornography; or
- any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature
Q. Why have an anti sexual harassment policy?
To provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for the matters connected therewith of thereto.
Q. Who will be affected by the policy?
The policy affects all employees who are:
- Employed at a workplace for any work on regular, temporary, ad hoc or daily wage basis
- Either directly or through an agent, including a contractor, with or without the knowledge of the principal employer, whether for remuneration or not, or working on a voluntary basis or otherwise
- Whether the terms of employment are express or implied and includes a co-worker, a contract worker, probationer, trainee, apprentice or called by any other name
Q. What is the sexual harassment policy designed to do?
The policy is designed for:
- Prevention: To keep from happening. To stop or hinder something from happening, especially by advance planning or action
- Prohibition: To forbid by authority, a law, order, or decree that forbids something
- Redressal: To set right; remedy or rectify
Q. What are the constitutional guarantees for a woman at the workplace?
The Indian constitution guarantees for the rights of women at work places, with special emphasis on Article 14, 16, 19, 20 and 21.
- Equality before law: Article 14 of the constitution guarantees that the laws of the country shall equally protect all citizens. It means that the State cannot discriminate any of the Indian citizens based on their caste, creed, colour, sex, gender, religion or place of birth
- Equality in matters of public employment: Article 16 of the constitution lays down that the state cannot discriminate against anyone in the matters of employment
- Right to life: Article 20: no one can be awarded punishment which is more than what the law of the land prescribes at that time
Q. We have a policy in place of many years ago? Do I need to update the policy?
The policy that you have must be in line with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013. As best practice, it is vital to review your policies every year to evaluate the efficacy of the policy.
Q. What should I do as an institution head to implement the anti-sexual harassment policy?
As an Institution head, you will need to send a strong message of the egalitarian work culture that your organization stands for, that celebrates diversity and a thriving work culture that is reflective of the company’s vision and mission. You will also need to ensure that you have a clear and robust anti-sexual harassment policy.
Here are some of the guidelines that will help you implement the companies anti sexual harassment policy:
- Define a statement of policy of harassment and establishment of a non-retaliation policy
- Implement prevention procedures with training for all stake holders
- Constitute a designated complaints committee
- Comply a Complaint, Investigation and Investigation Procedures methodology
- Implement measures to correct the effects of harassment
Q. Ours is an industrial unit, with a majority of men working in the organisation. Do we need a sexual harassment policy?
Everyone has an equal right to work in a respectful environment. It is a human right. Often men can get harassed too.
Harassing behaviour is unhealthy for everyone irrespective of the gender. A hostile work environment lowers the moral and productivity of the individual and interferes with the work your organisation is doing. Therefore, in order to help in creating a respectful work culture, you can incorporate a gender policy on anti-sexual harassment.
The external member on the committee, one who has relevant experience in the issues of gender rights, justice and human rights will be able to help you evolve an organisational policy unique to your organisation’s ethos.
Q. My organisation does not have an anti sexual harassment policy.
Ask for one. It is the collective responsibility of every person in the organisation to ask for the implementation of the anti sexual harassment policy. Inform the organisation of the legal consequences should there be no policy and redressal mechanisms in place.
Q. Why is it important to have a sexual harassment complaints committee?
It is mandated by law that any organization that has a minimum of 10 employees must constitute an Internal complaints committee (ICC). The ICC will have the powers of the civil court to act as Inquiry Authority on a complaint of sexual harassment, thus helping to create a safe work place. Going beyond the letter, the ICC will also ensure that victims and witnesses are not victimized or discriminated because of their complaint.
Q. What should be the member strength of the Sexual Harassment Complaints Committees?
- The Presiding Officer or Chair Person (Woman at a senior level at workplace from amongst the employees)
- Not less than two members from amongst employees preferably with experience in social work / have legal knowledge
- One member from the NGO/ associations committed to the cause of women/ person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment
- 50% of total members shall be women
Q. What is the tenure of the committee members?
The committee members hold office for three years. Note that the external member will be paid fees.
Q. Why must there be a third party member in the committee?
The law states that the third party member must be ‘from amongst non-governmental organizations or associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment’. The third party member is one who is an expert on women’s issues, gender justice. By the virtue of his/her experience and expertise in the area of justice, social activism he/she brings into the ICC critical knowledge, ensuring that a fair and just voice prevails, guiding the other members in a fair adjudication of the case at hand.
Q. What is the role of the third party member in the committee?
The third party member provides:
- Support and critical understanding in the areas such as human rights, gender sensitivity to help the committee make informed and fair decisions
- Guide the chairperson/ICC in drafting and executing the policy
- Gives critical inputs on best practices for an effective functioning of the committee
- Provides insights to managers to create free, fair and safe work environment
- Help in improving the complaints procedure system
- Being part of the investigation, reporting and interviewing
- Being a fair player in the committee to help members follow the true spirit and philosophy of the law
- Guide organizations in encouraging a culture of safe, equanimous and healthy work culture
Q. Is the third party member paid a fee?
Yes the third party member will be paid fees for their contribution to the committee and the organisation.
Q. How often must the committee meet?
The committee must meet every month. It is one of the best practices to be followed by the organisation, regardless of whether or not there is a complaint. Regular meetings help the committee to design strategy, future plans of action and best methods of implementation of policy. Further, if committee members are familiar with each other, they can work in synergy when unique requirements come up.
Q. Must the committee meet even when there are no complaints?
It is important to meet once a month regardless of whether or not there is a complaint. The meetings help the committee to design strategies, future plans for training and sensitization programs, developing best practices and methods of implementation of the policy.
Moreover, when the committee members meet regularly, it helps the committee group together thus enabling a work synergy.
Q. How can a person file a complaint?
A written complaint must be filed if a complaint investigation process is to be initiated.
You need to write a formal complaint letter to the committee to help in the process of investigation. But a written complaint is not required to trigger mediation.
Q. I want to file a complaint. I do not know where to start.
- First, check if your organization has an existing anti sexual harassment policy. If they don’t, demand setting up the sexual harassment complaints committee whether your complaint is formal or not
- In the meanwhile, record your experiences. Maintain a diary
- Talk to others. You may not be the only one who is being harassed
- Take help of your friends and colleagues. Have a witness to a situation where you are being sexually harassed
Q. How do I document the harassment?
Documenting the harassment is not easy, and can bring up emotions that are unsettling. As difficult as it may be, this is a legal requirement that can give teeth to YOUR case.
Here are some tips to help you document the harassment:
- Be specific: state the event clearly and comprehensively
- Emphasize how the event made you feel
- Include time, date and place of harassment
- List the chronology of the incidents and your reaction to the event
- List the evidence: should you have an email record to the harasser about the behaviour or conduct, list and quote it verbatim
- List the names of witnesses who were aware of the harassment, had similar experiences with the person before, or have been witness to the harassment
Q. I am in a leadership role. What should I do to stop harassment in my business unit?
You are in a leadership role in your organisation. It is your responsibility to challenge disrespectful behaviour when you witness it or are told about it.
You have a crucial role to play:
- To investigate reports of such behaviour
- Take action to build and maintain a respectful workplace
- To prevent any retaliation in the workplace
Even if you are not that person’s supervisor you still have the responsibility for stopping the harassment if observed or if you received a complaint, formally or informally. You open yourself to liability if you do not address the situation. You are responsible for receiving complaints, and following legal procedures to ensure the grievance is addressed.
Q. Is diversity linked to creating a harassment free workplace?
One of the key blocks in creating a respectful workplace is to appreciate diversity.
The foundation of equality, accepting of cultural differences, appreciating all types of diversity including diversity of thought will allow for a respectful workplace to stand, thus creating a workplace of mutual respect for all employees.
Q. What are the recommended training programs to prevent harassment?
Implementing training programs is equally important to having a committee. We recommend:
- For the committee members: sensitization workshop, orientation program for the internal committee to help understand the nuances of the act
- Training and awareness programs for Managers and HR
- For all employees: workshops and awareness programs at regular intervals to sensitizing employees with the provisions of the act
Q. How essential is it to set a budget for this?
As an organisation committed to a harassment free workplace, it is critical and important to set aside a separate budget for the multi-pronged activities of the committee. Organisations must plan and execute regular awareness and training programs for the committee members and all employees. Training on gender sensitization by experts on sexual harassment is essential as it is mandated by law.