In the realm of workplace ethics and gender equality, the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, 2013 stands as a pivotal piece of legislation in India. Its primary objective is to create a safe and harassment-free environment for women employees, in workplaces across the country. One of the critical facets of the POSH Act is the provision for interim measures, a vital tool that empowers Internal Committees (popularly known as the POSH Committee or the IC) to address allegations of sexual harassment effectively. This is the first part of the two-part blog series on Interim Measures under the POSH Act, 2013. In this part we will comprehensively understand the provisions of interim measures under the POSH Act, 2013. In the next blog, we will delve deeper into the topic with the help of scenarios.
What Are Interim Measures Under the POSH Act, 2013?
Interim measures, as prescribed by the POSH Act, are temporary actions that an Internal Committee (POSH Committee) can recommend during the pendency of a sexual harassment inquiry. Section 12 of the POSH Act, 2013 states that on a written request made by the aggrieved woman, the Internal Committee or the Local Committee may recommend interim measures to be taken by the employer. The measures which can be recommended are as follows:
- Transfer the complainant or respondent to a different place of work,
- Grant the complainant a leave of up to 3 months (in addition to any statutorily prescribed leave); or
- Grant any other relief as may be prescribed in the Rules or notification by the appropriate government or the organization’s service rules/internal policy.
As per Rules 8 of the POSH Rules, 2013, the IC can also recommend the following interim measures to the employer:
- Restrain the respondent from reporting on the work performance of the aggrieved woman or writing her confidential report, and assign the same to another officer.
- Restrain the respondent in case of an educational institution from supervising any academic activity of the aggrieved woman.
The interim measures do not constitute a determination of guilt or innocence. The purpose of these measures is to create a safe environment for the parties during the investigation and to prevent any interference with the inquiry process. The final decision regarding the inquiry process would be made based on the findings of the inquiry by the IC.
Which interim measures does the POSH Act allow and disallow?
It is essential to clarify which interim measures are allowed under the POSH Act, 2013.
1. Allowed Measures:
The POSH Act grants the IC the authority to recommend various interim measures, including but not limited to:
- Temporary suspension of the accused from work.
- Issuance of a no-contact order between the complaint and the accused.
- Temporary relocation of either the complainant or the accused.
- Provision of counseling or support services to the complainant.
2. Disallowed Measures:
We often receive a question “can punitive measures be taken during the pendency of an inquiry”? The answer to this question is “no”. Punitive measures like termination, reduction of salary or other forms of punishment cannot be imposed on the accused during the pendency of a sexual harassment inquiry. The POSH Act emphasizes the importance of a fair and unbiased investigation. Only after the IC, following a meticulous investigation, establishes the accused’s culpability in a fair and transparent manner, should punitive measures even be considered. In essence, the POSH Act mandates that punishment should follow due process and not precede it.
Can interim measures be issued without a written request from the aggrieved?
As per the POSH Act, interim measures can be recommended by the IC when the aggrieved woman makes a written request. However, it is crucial for the IC to assess each situation individually. Even in the absence of a written request, if the IC becomes aware of circumstances requiring protection for the complainant or evidence preservation, they should proactively recommend interim measures. IC must document the action with evidence on why Suo moto interim relief was granted. This is to ensure the complainant’s safety and a fair investigation within the framework of the applicable Service Rules/Standing Orders/POSH Policy/Code of Conduct Policy/any other Internal Policy and the Act’s provisions.
In Dinesh Chandra Mishra v. Dr. Trilochan Mohapatra, 2019/DHC/3106 the High Court of Delhi stated that the employer’s right to transfer the employee who is facing the inquiry, is not dependent on such a request made by the aggrieved woman.
What is the importance of Interim Measures in the POSH Act, 2013?
The inclusion of interim measures in the POSH Act, 2013 is of paramount importance for several reasons:
- Support to Aggrieved Women: Interim measures provide immediate support and protection to the aggrieved women, reassuring them that their complaints are taken seriously and that their well-being is a priority.
- Preventive Action: They help prevent the continuation of harassment, creating a safer workplace for all employees and deterring potential harassers.
- Avoid Retaliation: If the aggrieved experiences any act that can be perceived to be retaliation, IC can recommend restricting the respondent from supervising the work performance of the aggrieved or writing her confidential report. If needed, the IC can recommend the transfer or any other action which is not punitive.
- Fair Investigation: Interim measures facilitate a fair and unbiased investigation by preserving evidence and ensuring that both the complainant and the accused have equal opportunities to present their cases.
- Legal Compliance: The inclusion of interim measures in the inquiry process guarantees that organizations adhere to the legal obligations specified in the POSH Act, 2013. This, in turn, minimizes the potential for legal consequences.
- Promoting Gender Equality: By addressing sexual harassment promptly and effectively, interim measures contribute to fostering a workplace culture of gender equality and respect.
What is the process of implementing Interim Measures?
The process of implementing interim measures is a vital component in the effective handling of sexual harassment allegations. This step-by-step guide outlines how these measures are typically put into action:
Step 1: Receipt and Evaluation of Complaint
The process commences when a complaint of sexual harassment is received. The Internal Committee (popularly known as the POSH Committee) or Local Committee (LC) assesses the merits of the complaint, considering the gravity of the allegations.
Step 2: Request for Interim Measures
If deemed necessary, the aggrieved woman may formally request interim measures in writing. However, it’s worth noting that the IC or the POSH Committee can take proactive steps to recommend interim measures without a formal request, especially in situations where safety of the complainant, evidence preservation or independence of the inquiry is under threat. It is essential to document such actions. The complainant can request interim measures when she believes that her safety, well-being, or rights are in danger due to the alleged misconduct.
Step 3: IC’s Recommendation
Based on the request or a proactive assessment of the situation, the IC formulates specific recommendations for interim measures to be undertaken by the employer. These measures can encompass temporary relocation, granting leave, issuing restraining orders, or any other relief as stipulated by the Rules, government notifications, or internal organizational policies.
Step 4: Employer’s Action
Upon receiving the IC’s recommendations, the employer assumes responsibility for swiftly implementing the prescribed interim measures. Clear communication of these measures to all parties involved is crucial, ensuring their understanding of their respective rights and responsibilities.
Step 5: Ongoing Monitoring
Throughout the inquiry, the IC maintains a vigilant eye on the effectiveness of the interim measures. Adjustments can be made when required to address evolving circumstances and to uphold the safety and well-being of the complainant.
Can multiple interim measures be issued against one person?
Yes, it is possible to apply multiple interim measures to the same individual, should the situation necessitate it. For instance, if the complainant initially seeks temporary relocation but subsequently requests a no-contact order due to ongoing harassment, both measures can coexist to offer comprehensive protection.
What is the timeline for implementation of Interim Measures?
While the POSH Law doesn’t stipulate a strict timeline for the implementation of interim measures, it is imperative to put these measures into effect promptly after the IC’s recommendation. Since interim relief can be given during the pendency of inquiry, it is automatically concluded that an action taken as an interim relief ends as soon as the inquiry is completed. Interim relief is a temporary remedy that the IC can grant, but it must be used carefully. Even though the POSH Act outlines provisions for interim relief in favour of the complainant, it should not be unfair or punitive towards the respondent.
Can the Respondent be suspended pending inquiry?
As per the POSH Act, it is not an obvious Yes. However, if the respondent is misusing their authority, using violence, or any other methods to interfere with the inquiry, the Internal Committee can recommend suspension of the respondent. Suspension as interim measure should typically be considered as a last resort in cases where the allegations are particularly severe and continuing to work alongside the complainant could pose significant risks. However, suspension must align with due process, and the final decision should be based on the findings of the inquiry conducted by the IC.
What are the challenges and concerns of implementing Interim Measures?
While interim measures play a crucial role in addressing allegations of sexual harassment, their implementation can present challenges and concerns that organizations must navigate effectively. These considerations include:
- Balancing Interests: One of the primary challenges lies in finding the delicate balance between safeguarding the rights and well-being of the aggrieved party while ensuring due process for the accused. Protecting the rights of the aggrieved party involves fair treatment, support, and compensation for their losses. Simultaneously, ensuring due process for the accused is critical, emphasizing the presumption of innocence, a fair trial, and protection against false accusations.
- Communication: Effective communication of interim measures to all stakeholders is paramount. Misunderstandings or resistance can arise if these measures are not clearly conveyed. Ensuring that both the aggrieved and the accused fully understand the scope and purpose of the measures is essential for a smooth process. To ensure effective communication when implementing interim measures, the IC can follow a few steps such as offer a way for questions and concerns to be raised, provide written documentation of the measures, be clear and transparent in communication etc.
- Adhering to Legal and Ethical Considerations: Ensuring compliance with the legal requirements outlined in the POSH Law for implementation of interim measures is crucial to prevent potential legal issues. Organizations must also consider the ethical implications of their actions and ensure that interim measures are applied in a fair and consistent manner.
- Monitoring and Documentation: Proper monitoring and documentation of interim measures are essential to track their effectiveness and prevent any misuse. Clear records should be maintained to ensure that the measures are applied appropriately and do not inadvertently harm any party. In order to cater to this requirement, eLearnPOSH have developed a tool called Complaints Management System (CMS), which streamlines the process of documenting inquiries related to the POSH. This system facilitates the comprehensive documentation of the entire inquiry process, from the initial complaint submission to the generation of a final report, all within a single platform. This tool is available as a part of the under our Annual IC Subscription at no extra cost.
What is the impact on the mental and economic well-being of the respondent who is not guilty?
Interim measures, while crucial for ensuring a safe workplace and addressing allegations of sexual harassment, can have significant unintended consequences on the mental and economic well-being of the parties involved. These considerations are particularly pertinent when the IC finds the respondent not guilty following a thorough investigation.
- Emotional Toll and Psychological Impact: The process of being subjected to interim measures and the associated inquiry can take a substantial emotional toll on the respondent. Accusations of sexual harassment, even if unsubstantiated, can lead to stress, anxiety, and reputational damage. The emotional distress experienced during this period should not be underestimated.
- Economic Hardships: Interim measures such as relocation, suspension, or extended leave can also result in economic hardships for the respondent. These measures may disrupt their work, affecting their income and career progression. In some cases, individuals may face financial difficulties or loss of job opportunities due to the interim measures.
The IC shall resort to issuing interim measures only when the respondent disrupts the investigation process or when the safety and well-being of the complainant are at risk. IC shall be mindful that they do not implement interim measures without conducting a proper inquiry. It is also the responsibility of the IC to inform the parties regarding the rights and duties they have as per the POSH Act, 2013 during the initiation of the inquiry process. When informing the respondent about their rights and responsibilities, it’s vital to also educate them about their behaviour, which could prevent the necessity of implementing interim measures.
The POSH Act allows protective steps while avoiding punitive actions during inquiries, ensuring fairness. Although a written request triggers these measures, the IC should act proactively if the situation warrants, reinforcing workplace safety. With awareness and vigilance, organizations can cultivate respectful, harassment-free environments, exemplifying a commitment to every employee’s well-being. In our upcoming blog post, we will explore the implementation of interim measures in greater detail, discuss the challenges that arise during implementation, and provide additional practical insights on the topic.
Within the framework of workplace ethics, interim measures represent essential elements of protection and fairness as defined by the POSH Act, 2013. They serve as immediate support to combat harassment and uphold equity. While organizations grapple with challenges, such as balancing interests and navigating unforeseen outcomes, they must proceed with both empathy and precision. These measures form the foundation of workplaces where respect and equality thrive. Through careful implementation, organizations can craft a tapestry of trust, conveying to each employee that their well-being is of paramount importance and that gender equality is an indisputable principle.