Almost every other day, we see in the news, about a company or an influential figure getting caught in an allegation of sexual harassment. This adversely impacts the reputation of the organization. Sexual harassment at workplace has become far too common, even though many do not like to accept it.
Every organization has the duty to reshape this reality by creating and maintaining a harassment-free workplace. While it is a legal obligation to maintain a safe workplace by complying to prevention of sexual harassment laws (POSH Laws) in the country, it is also the correct thing to do. If the organization does not keep a check on harassment at workplace, they will end up paying a high price for it.
This blog will serve as a quick guide to help organizations prevent sexual harassment at work and promote a respectful work environment.
1. Have a POSH Policy in Place
If the numerous sexual harassment instances that have come to light in recent years have taught us anything; it is the need to have a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment. One way to do so is to draft and disseminate a Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) policy. The policy should clearly mention what type of behavior constitutes sexual harassment. This should also include the definition of hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Ensure that all employees are aware that such a policy exists. Employer should take steps to provide all employees easy access to the policy.
The policy must be reviewed regularly at least once in a year. This will help in keeping the policy updated in accordance with the changes in the law. This will also help in evaluating the effectiveness of the policy.
2. Create a Safe Culture that Promotes Open Communication
The organization’s culture plays a very important role in curbing sexual harassment at workplace. If the culture of the organization does not discourage harassment, the policy is not going to be of any use. A good example of this is a company ignoring a sexual harassment complaint filed against its top performing sales executive. Such organizational culture that does not give importance to the welfare of all its employees will not be able to prevent sexual harassment at all.
The company culture flows from top to bottom. Leaders should set an example by modelling appropriate behaviours and encouraging open communication. A company culture that:
- encourages reporting of inappropriate behaviours,
- does not brush the problems under the carpet, and
- treats the problems and concerns of every employee seriously regardless of the position in the hierarchy
will automatically promote safe working environment and deter sexual harassment.
3. Provide Effective Sexual Harassment Prevention Training to All
Although many think that employees can easily identify sexual harassment at workplace, this is not the case all the time. Obvious forms of sexual harassment like physical sexual harassment or verbal harassment are easily identifiable. But the subtle ones like inappropriate gestures or online harassment are not. Such behaviors if not identified and addressed will not only continue to take place resulting in a hostile work environment, but it will also harm company culture and professional relationship.
Therefore, it is important to educate employees about covert acts of sexual harassment. They should be able to identify what is acceptable and unacceptable at workplace. They should also be educated on the importance of maintaining professional boundaries at workplace. Effective awareness programs in the form of classroom trainings or online POSH trainings should be conducted on a regular basis. Everyone – employees, managers, supervisors, leaders, and Internal Committee – should be trained on sexual harassment prevention at least once in a year. Periodic refresher trainings or a webinar to reinforce the key concepts will surely help.
However, one-size-fits-all model will not help when conducting POSH training as different set of audience has different responsibilities in the sexual harassment prevention endeavour at workplace. Training must be categorized based on the audience.
Keep the Training Positive, Avoid Legality
Employees can be quickly deterred if a significant focus of the training is on the laws, regulations and legal terms. It is true that these legal terms have to be covered, but they must not be the primary content covered in the training. Since employees are not lawyers and they are not familiar with technical / legal terms, they may not be able to understand the purpose of the training. Focusing only on the legality could also imply that as long as words or deeds aren’t illegal, they are fine.
The sexual harassment training should include positive content. Focusing on professional, polite behaviour is more likely to encourage employees and managers.
Research suggests that having a positive approach to prevention is a more effective method to get the message over and engage the employees in building and maintaining the ideal work environment. Positive messaging that assumes that employees want to be part of sexual harassment prevention encourages them to participate in the initiative. Communicate what is unacceptable at workplace and what must be avoided when interacting with colleagues. But also include examples that reflect a better standard: your company’s beliefs, principles, and culture.
4. Do Not Wait for A Complaint
It is not necessary that the organization should wait till a harassment complaint is filed. Be proactive and use surveys to ask employees whether they have experienced sexual harassment and if they have reported them. If the survey results show that employees experienced harassment but did not report, managers/HR can find out the reason and encourage them to report. This has several advantages:
- It conveys the employer’s commitment towards sexual harassment prevention.
- This will ensure that majority, if not all, sexual harassment incidents are addressed.
- This will help in evaluating the effectiveness of the harassment prevention initiatives.
5. Have Informal Communication About Sexual Harassment
POSH training definitely helps in sexual harassment prevention. But the organization’s initiative to create a safe workplace should not end there. Leaders and managers can consider having informal conversations about the importance of sexual harassment prevention with the employees. This can happen during one-on-one meetings, team meetings or the monthly all-employee meetings. The aim of this informal communication is to send a solid, unambiguous message that preventing harassment is a priority for the organization and that any employee who breaches harassment policies will be held responsible, irrespective of their designation.
These discussions will be genuinely influential if it originates from leaders throughout the organisation, preferably top executives.
6. Inform Employees about the Complaining Mechanism
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act) prescribes that every organization with ten or more employees must constitute an Internal Committee which will take measures to prevent sexual harassment and redress sexual harassment complaints at workplace. Ensure that your employees are aware of the existence of the Internal Committee and the procedure to file a complaint. Regular trainings that the employees undergo can be used to instill faith in the Internal Committee.
In case the organization has a mechanism to file anonymous complaints, give all the necessary details to the employees that will help them make use of it.
7. Respect Complainants, Inquire Quickly
If employees have the notion that the organization will do nothing if sexual harassment issues arise, they will cease reporting them. In addition, harassers will feel empowered to harass. This should never be the case.
It is necessary that the Internal Committee respects every person who approaches them with a complaint of sexual harassment. It is not always easy to talk about a painful experience. Their effort must be appreciated. As per the POSH Act, the inquiry into a complaint must be completed within ninety days from the date of receipt of the complaint. Complying to this provision of the POSH Act, Internal Committee must act quickly to address harassment complaints, conduct a complete and objective inquiry and recommend actions as needed.
This will send the strong message that sexual harassment complaints are taken seriously, and harassment will not be tolerated.
How Can eLearnPOSH Help Organizations in Preventing Sexual Harassment at Work?
eLearnPOSH, with its team of subject matter experts in the space of sexual harassment prevention, enables organizations stay compliant to the POSH Law and create a respectful working environment. eLearnPOSH offers end to end POSH compliance solutions right from awareness creation through eLearning courses & webinar to POSH policy creation.
Our interactive and engaging eLearning courses cater to different audiences within the organization. We have Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace – Foundation for employees and Prevention of Sexual Harassment Training for Managers to ensure that employees and managers are aware of their roles and responsibilities in preventing sexual harassment at workplace.
Internal Committee is an integral part in an organization’s mission to prevent sexual harassment. They require regular training to conduct inquiries in an effective manner staying compliant to the law. eLearnPOSH’s comprehensive Annual Subscription Program for IC Members offers modular eLearning modules that cover important POSH topics and three webinars with an open Q&A to ensure that IC members are empowered to prevent harassment, conduct inquiry, prepare inquiry reports and file Annual Report.
eLearnPOSH’s FREE External Member Directory has a list of experienced External Members you can choose from for your Internal Committee.
An excellent prevention plan is your most potent weapon for fighting sexual harassment at workplace. Employers should expend every effort to offer their employees a safe and secure working environment. Following the guidelines elaborated in this article will make the task easier.