Right to a safe working environment is a fundamental right. Every person entering the work force, irrespective of their educational background or designations, wishes to be treated with respect and always have dignity. However, one of the reasons for employees feeling unsafe is having a hostile work environment created due to incidences of sexual harassment.
Nearly a decade after the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (POSH Act) came to be enforced in 2013, sexual harassment cases continue to threaten women’s safety and dignity. POSHEquili, a vertical of Equilibrio Advisory LLP, that provides POSH-related compliance services, has conducted 1000+ inquiries, 2000+ training and awareness programs wherein 3 lakh+ individuals have been trained so far.
Sexual harassment at the workplace imposes a range of costs that impact individuals, including the aggrieved woman, the respondent (i.e., the person against whom a complaint has been filed), the employers and the company at large. While the law lays down the primary responsibility on the employer to create safe workplaces free from any form of sexual harassment, there are certain steps that we all as individuals can take to create healthy workplaces.
Following are some tips to prevent sexual harassment at workplace-
Saying and accepting a ‘No’
Each person entering the workforce comes with a different cultural background, upbringing, experiences, etc. As a result, we all develop varied personal boundaries which are also likely to change over time.
While sometimes there are valid reasons for a person to not explicitly assert their boundaries, this is something which can over time help in preventing sexual harassment at the workplace. However, it is not just limited to this.
It is equally important that we all learn the art of accepting a ‘no’. Often, complaints under the POSH Act are a result of retaliation due to denial of sexual favours. Hence, we not only need to assert ourselves but also accept if others do the same to have a conducive work environment.
Calling out inappropriate behaviour
People spend a large proportion of their time at their workplaces. As a result, they end up making good friends. However, sometimes, people do engage in inappropriate behaviour like using unacceptable language, having uncomfortable conversations under the pretext of ‘lightning the work pressure’, etc.
This is where each of us need to take conscious steps to call out such behaviour irrespective of the kind of relationship we share with them. This could be as simple as going up to them and making them realize that what they are indulging in is incorrect and could also be a potential complaint under the POSH Act. If the need arises, we can go a step further and report the inappropriate behaviour to the concerned authorities.
Being mindful of the content you share
With the pandemic, virtual interaction between the employees increased exponentially. Consequently, complaints of online sexual harassment rose as well wherein it was reported that people were sharing sexual content over official as well as unofficial platforms.
While some may consider such content to be a stress buster for them, it is essential that we be mindful of the fact that not everyone would be comfortable receiving such content from anyone, let alone their colleagues. Apart from not sharing inappropriate content ourselves, we also need to refrain from forwarding it in case we receive the same. This will in a way help break the chain of making workplace conversations sexual.
Engaging in healthy conversations
All co-workers have conversations with each other apart from work. This may also include gossips. While gossiping may not directly lead to creating a hostile work environment, but it may have a severe impact on some people.
Hence, whenever we are indulging into such conversations, we need to be conscious of the fact that it may involve topics which are very sensitive for a person and may also trigger some past experiences including that of sexual harassment. Therefore, it is important that we engage only in ‘healthy gossips.’
Seeking professional help
On one hand each of us do need to have regular checks on our behaviour at the workplace, on the other hand it is important that we take external support whenever required. This could include merely confiding in a colleague if we are going through something or even seeking professional help like that of a counsellor if the need arises. This will not only help us take care of our mental health but also go a long way in deciding our workplace conduct and building healthy workplace relationships.
Employee awareness sessions on the POSH Act is one of the ways in which the employers attempt to fulfil their responsibility of preventing sexual harassment at the workplace. One of the co-founders of the Firm, Adv. Shivangi Prasad, states that for initial years, those organizations that have started creating awareness through programs, campaigns, surveys etc. may also see a year-on-year increase in the number of POSH complaints. This may not mean that the efforts towards prevention have not worked. Such programs may give confidence to suffering employees that the organization will look into their grievances without retaliation thereby developing further trust in the organization. Respondents in such cases also may feel that the organization will do a fair, neutral inquiry instead of simply terminating employment. Hence, such awareness programs, in most cases, may not only lead to prevention but also redressal of instances that may have been taking place.
As individuals, while it is essential for each of us to know what the law says, it is equally important to be aware of these finer nuances which will help us keep a check on our conduct at the workplace. Ultimately, the key lies in respecting each other’s personal boundaries.