POSH Awareness for “Extended Workplace”
Ganesh (name changed) is a vibrant youth who believes in living life to the fullest. He works as a Business Analyst intern at a consulting organization. This is his first job. He has been working from home for the past two weeks. In one of the video conference calls with his team and clients, Ganesh is seen with a T-shirt that has a sexually provocative slogan. This makes his colleagues feel awkward, some even feel disrespected. One of his colleagues file a sexual harassment complaint to the IC the same evening.
Can Ganesh be held responsible for violating the office decorum or can he be excused because he has the liberty to wear what he wants at home? Will Ganesh’s actions come under the purview of the POSH Act? Does POSH Act permit Ganesh’s colleagues to complain about his provocative attire? While several questions arise in our minds, let us have an in-depth look at the incident.
As per POSH Act’s definition of workplace, will “home” constitute workplace? The answer is “Yes”. The POSH Act clearly defines workplace as “any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for the purpose of commuting to and from the place of employment”.
Since employees still interact with their colleagues and carry out their work, “home” will come under the ambit of “Extended Workplace”. One can now conclude that Ganesh’s action will surely fall under the purview of POSH Act and his attire during the video call will fall under the definition of Sexual Harassment which is ‘any unwelcome, sexually determined physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct’.
We are seeing a new dimension of POSH Law and Workplace harassment lately as the lines between home and workplace have blurred. It is extremely important that employers take notice of this. More so because this work from home scenario has led to several awkward situations like the one we saw above.
As the wise old saying goes “Prevention is better than cure”. So, we’ll put aside the questions and focus on what can be done to avoid such incidents from happening at Extended Workplaces.
How to prevent Sexual Harassment at “Extended Workplace”?
The first step in prevention is to sensitize employees by creating awareness about the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors at virtual workplace. This can be done through various ways. If POSH awareness at your organization is delivered through eLearning, you can make sure that the definition of virtual workplace and acceptable behaviors at this extended workplace is covered. You can ask the employees to go through the module or section on virtual workplace with its assessment. You can track the ‘course completion’ progress and also follow-up by sending reminders to make sure that all the employees have actually gone through the module.
If the current course content does not cover information on virtual workplace, you can modify the content to include this information. Since work from home will become very common in most organizations, it is better to keep the course content updated with the latest information available on POSH.
Mailers and Policy Document
If your organization does not use eLearning for POSH Awareness, you can create a company POSH policy document that lists the dos and don’ts for employees working from extended workplace. This document can be sent to all the employees along with a mechanism to capture their acknowledgement. For example, you can upload the policy document to the intranet and ask the employees to sign in using their employee ID to download it. This will help you track how many have actually downloaded it.
Employee Awareness through their Managers
Apart from the steps above, you should reach out to the managers and ask them to reinforce the dos and don’ts for employees working from extended workplace, during their team meetings. This will also allow the opportunity for the employees to raise any questions and concerns they may have about this topic.
These simple but proactive steps taken by organizations can go a long way in not only preventing awkward situations but also help foster a healthy and respectful extended workplace.