The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 defines sexual harassment as
“any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behavior (whether directly or by implication) namely:—
(i) physical contact and advances; or
(ii) a demand or request for sexual favours; or
(iii) making sexually coloured remarks; or
(iv) showing pornography; or
(v) any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature”
This can include acts like grabbing, kissing, threatening to terminate from job for denying sexual favors, passing derogatory comments about employees and sharing inappropriate materials online.
While the POSH Act tried to keep the definition as comprehensive as possible, it is still not always easy to determine whether a behavior constitutes sexual harassment or not. Some forms of sexual harassment can be so subtle that even the victim will question their experience. Hence it is important for everyone to know some covert forms of sexual harassment through proper POSH training. This blog will help you to understand eight subtle ways sexual harassment can occur at workplace and Importance of POSH training and how sexual harassment can be avoided by POSH Training
1. Comments About Physical Appearance
There is a very fine line between a compliment on someone’s appearance and sexually harassing statements. A compliment comes from a good intention and is given to make someone feel good. Sexual harassment, on the other hand, is something that sounds like a compliment, but has sexual nature, is inappropriate and makes a person feel uncomfortable, intimidated or objectified.
The statement, “You look good” is a compliment, whereas “You dressed well today. Got a ‘special meeting’ with your super boss?” is clearly sexual harassment. This is an easy example. But most of the times, it is difficult to differentiate between harassment and a compliment. Hence when someone at workplace makes a ”not-so-appropriate” comment, women may wonder whether the statement was a genuine compliment or sexual harassment. Even though they may feel uncomfortable about it, they may keep quiet because they are not sure.
2. Stalking Through Digital Media
Online harassment is another subtle form of harassment. Sending inappropriate messages, images and videos, making offensive comments, etc. are not very subtle. They are the obvious ones.
However, when a person contacts a co-worker at odd-hours on social media unnecessarily, that is a very subtle form of harassment. Women receive texts and calls from co-workers in the pretext of work and they refuse to stop messaging/hang up even after the discussion about work is over. If this is with consent and is appreciated by the person at the other end, it is not harassment.
However, when people do it without the consent of the other person or in the absence of positive response from the other end, then it becomes harassment. Online stalking and gathering information about a person and using this information to make conversations are also red flags which can turn to severe forms later. Not many women are aware that they need not and should not tolerate such behavior.
3. Physical Harassment That Are Not Sexual
Not all unwelcome physical contacts have to be sexual in nature for it to be sexual harassment. Any unwelcome kind of physical contact that makes a person uncomfortable is categorized as sexual harassment. Patting on a person’s back, rubbing someone’s shoulder, putting hand over the shoulder, subtly brushing against another person’s body, physically blocking a person’s movement, or even leaning closer to a person are some subtle forms of sexual harassment. Some of these may look unintentional, but if the person at the receiving end finds it uncomfortable, and the behavior continues, it can be considered as sexual harassment.
4. Constant Flirting Without Consent
If an employee finds a co-worker attractive, it is understandable for them to ask the co-worker out on a date. If the co-worker turns the request down, the other person should maintain professionalism and stop pursuing their romantic interest. In case the person is not ready to stop pursuing, that is when it becomes problematic. Constant flirting or continuously making romantic advances at a person when they have already turned the proposal down is clearly sexual harassment even though many are not aware of it.
5. Romantic Relationships That Turn Sour
Since employees spend majority of their time at office, many find their romantic partners at work. But things change when the relationship ends and one of the parties is not ready to move on. Constantly asking the former partner to get back, threatening them to reveal secrets or gossiping about them are examples of sexual harassment that arise from a consensual relationship that has now gone wrong. Even the victims of harassment are not always aware that this is a form of harassment which they can report.
Most of the time, other employees refuse to intervene because of the thought “it is their personal matter. I should stay out of it”. If you ever happen to witness a co-worker being bothered by their former partner, either step in or advice your co-worker to report the incident with the Internal Committee. These can avoided by POSH training
6. Unwelcome Conversations and Jokes with Sexual Nature
It may be common among friends to make jokes of sexual nature. This may occur at workplaces too between co-workers who share an extreme level of comfort. But not everybody at workplace may find these funny. Conversations about a person’s sex life, using sexual innuendos in conversation, making jokes of sexual nature, etc. can create a hostile work environment and are examples of sexual harassment, especially, if the conversation is unwelcome and the person at the other end is not comfortable with it. It is also sexual harassment if an employee is forced to share intimate details of their personal life.
The speaker cannot brush it off as “it was just a joke” or “I did not mean to offend you”. Always be mindful about the people around you when having such conversations.
7. Forced to “Play Along”
Not all forms of sexual harassment are intentional. Sometimes the harasser would not have meant to harass others, they just do not know that the behavior is offensive. In such cases, women may give subtle feedback like “that is not cool, you should stop that behavior”. But then, the harasser or others asking the person “not to over-react” or “to just go along because that is how he is”, is not correct because if the person continues their behavior even after feedback, it is definitely sexual harassment.
8. Retaliation For Reporting Sexual Harassment
It is obvious that a person will not like it when someone complains against them. If the respondent of a complaint (the person who is accused of sexual harassment) displays punishing behaviors towards the complainant for complaining, it is called retaliation. Examples of retaliation are discriminating, rumour-mongering, giving too much or too little work, demoting or terminating the complainant. Retaliation can cause further harassment to the complainant and can make the work environment hostile for them.
If you find someone being extremely hostile towards another co-worker for no apparent reason, you can talk to the victim and if it is a case of retaliation for complaining against sexual harassment, ask the victim to inform Internal Committee immediately.
Awareness Creation for Sexual Harassment Prevention
Sexual harassment will not always have tangible evidence and therefore can go unnoticed by others. that’s why POSH training is required. Since the victims are also not sure about their experience, they will not come forward to report it. This does not undermine the mental trauma and agony that a victim had to experience. The only way out from this problem is to increase awareness about sexual harassment so that employees can identify when an incident of sexual harassment occurs via POSH training.
Effective online POSH training or offline POSH training conducted at regular intervals can help employees identify sexual harassment. POSH Training will also prevent people who engage in offensive behaviors unintentionally from acting inappropriately as they would understand that such behaviors are unacceptable at workplace. eLearnPOSH offers interactive, engaging and legally accurate online POSH training and webinars for staff (white collar and blue-collar workers), supervisors & managers and the Internal Committee. To know more details about our POSH offerings, POSH training contact us.