Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace

Understanding Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace: Causes, Effects, and Prevention Strategies 

Right to a safe working environment is a fundamental right. Every person wishes to be treated with dignity and respect. A healthy environment plays an essential role in ensuring that people put their best efforts while delivering the work they have been assigned. However, even today, there are factors which create a hostile work environment, thereby infringing the rights of the employees. One such issue is that of sexual harassment at the workplace. 

In India, we have a special legislation called the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (POSH Act, 2013) which was formulated with the objective of creating safe workplaces for women in our country. Unfortunately, nearly a decade after the POSH Act came to be enforced in 2013, sexual harassment cases continue to threaten women’s safety and dignity.  

The causes of sexual harassment of women at workplace are complex and multifaceted. Understanding the causes of sexual harassment is an essential step towards preventing it from happening in the workplace. Here are some of the most common causes: 

  1. Power Imbalance: A power imbalance between men and women in the workplace can make women vulnerable to sexual harassment. Men often hold positions of authority and are in a position to make decisions that can affect women’s careers. This power imbalance can create an environment where sexual harassment can occur. 
  1. Gender Stereotyping: Gender stereotypes and cultural attitudes towards women in the workplace can contribute to the prevalence of sexual harassment. Women may be seen as objects or commodities rather than valued colleagues, which can make them targets for sexual harassment. 
  1. Lack of Awareness and Education: Lack of awareness and education about sexual harassment can also contribute to its prevalence. Many people are not aware of what constitutes sexual harassment or how to report it, which can create a culture of silence around the issue. 
  1. Workplace Culture: The workplace culture can also contribute to sexual harassment. A culture that condones or tolerates inappropriate behaviour can create an environment where sexual harassment can occur. 
  1. Social Norms: Some social norms around masculinity and femininity may lead to sexual harassment. For instance, some men may believe that it is their right to make sexual advances towards women, and some women may feel that they are expected to accept such behaviour as part of their job. 
  1. Accessibility: The physical accessibility of workplaces can also be a factor in sexual harassment. For example, workplaces that have poorly lit areas, limited security, or isolated spaces can make women feel more vulnerable to sexual harassment. 
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The effects of sexual harassment at the workplace can be far-reaching and significant for the aggrieved, the organization, and the society at large. Here are some of the most common effects of sexual harassment at the workplace: 

  1. Impact on the Aggrieved: Sexual harassment can have a severe impact on the aggrieved’s physical and mental health, job satisfaction, and overall well-being. They may suffer from anxiety, depression, stress, and trauma, which can affect their productivity and performance at work. It can also lead to absenteeism, high staff turnover, and the loss of skilled employees. 
  1. Legal Consequences: Sexual harassment can lead to legal consequences for the respondent (i.e., the person against whom a sexual harassment complaint has been filed) and the organization. Aggrieved woman may file lawsuits against the respondent and the organization for damages, and the organization may face reputational damage and financial penalties. 
  1. Loss of Productivity: Sexual harassment at workplace can affect the productivity of the entire organization. A workplace where sexual harassment is prevalent may have a negative work culture, leading to a lack of motivation, high absenteeism rates, a decrease in teamwork and low productivity. This can lead to a loss of business, decreased sales, and difficulty in attracting and retaining talented employees. 

Understanding the effects of sexual harassment at the workplace is crucial for organizations to create a safe and respectful work environment. Employers must take steps to prevent sexual harassment, provide support to the aggrieved, and create an open and inclusive work culture. Some of the prevention strategies outlined in the POSH Act, 2013 are: 

  1. Establishment of an Internal Complaints Committee (IC): The IC is responsible for addressing complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace. All organizations with 10 or more employees are required by law to establish an IC.  
  1. Development of an Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy: Employers are required to develop and publish a policy on sexual harassment at the workplace. The policy should clearly define what constitute sexual harassment, provide examples of prohibited behaviour, and outline the process for reporting and addressing complaints. While the POSH Act only protect the female employees from sexual harassment at workplace, but the organizations can have a gender-neutral approach while formulating their anti-sexual harassment policies. 
  1. Awareness and training programs: Employers are required to provide awareness and training programs to all employees, including managers and supervisors, on preventing and addressing sexual harassment at the workplace. The training can include information on the policy, the complaints process, and the legal consequences of sexual harassment. Read more about the importance of POSH awareness sessions here
  1. Regular monitoring and review: Employers should regularly monitor and review the workplace for incidents of sexual harassment. This can include conducting surveys and feedback sessions to gather information on the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment at the workplace. 
  1. Support for the Aggrieved: Employers should provide support to the ones aggrieved of sexual harassment, including counselling and legal assistance. Employers should also take steps to protect them from retaliation and victimization. 
  1. Disciplinary action: Employers should take disciplinary action against those who are guilty of sexual harassment. This can include warnings, suspension, termination, or other appropriate measures. Employers should also take steps to prevent them from retaliating against the aggrieved. 

By implementing these prevention strategies, employers can create a safe and harassment-free workplace for all employees. While the law has laid down some preventive measures, each of us, at an individual level, can also contribute to ensure our colleagues feel comfortable and respected around us. To know more about this, click here.  

Disclaimer: Views are personal 

-By Adv. Bhumika Jain

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