Virtual Harassment & Posh Act

Introduction To Virtual Harassment & Posh Act

In the current scenario, Virtual Harassment & Posh Act applies to those who work from home and are considered as part of new normal corporate life as people cannot move out of their homes amid COVID 19. The corporate sector has taken its shape as ease during the pandemic. It helped in learning how to cope with challenges while sitting at home with a respective workforce. 

While there have always been troubles arising from data privacy and cybersecurity when a large number of people are working on the internet. It must be noted that companies were also quick and steady in identifying such threats and addressing the future apprehensions about these issues with utmost safety and security that are interconnected with the functioning of the particular process and business environment.

In a recent study by Economic times, the estimated working population operating now from the home is more than three million. This number is constantly increasing as the safety of the employees is the priority for every organization.

Although, the concern which is coming into the light is the safety of women while they are working from home on the internet and other software that are menace and peril for society. Therefore, a new term has emerged in recent times on receiving multiple instances of harassment of women in the work from home approach i.e. ‘Virtual Harassment’ which shall be further discussed in the article. 

What can be construed as Virtual Harassment & Posh Act?

We all are constantly connected with each other through social media and applications that have become a backbone for the corporate sector on a daily basis. Although there are many advantages and usefulness of these applications, they have also given rise and made it more convenient for the harassers and criminals to keep an eye on their victims.

The definition of sexual harassment can now involve unwanted digital interaction with the clients or any other person that is called as Virtual harassment or Cyberbullying. Furthermore, it can be classified into two dimensions:

  1. First category: In this, if  a victim receives unwelcome materials, text, e-mails, photographs, video from the harasser that may contain some explicit stuff and is against the modesty of a woman and prohibited by law.
  2. Second category: In this category, it talks about the behaviors such as:
  • Spreading false rumours about the victim and commenting on the victim’s sexuality.
  • Sharing offensive photographs of the victim against her will and consent.
  • Using derogatory words and statements in the favour of the victim on social platforms.

In another definition in recent times, Virtual harassment can be interpreted as the making personal comments on the person’s social media handles, sending inappropriate emojis and message on social apps and most importantly insisting on video calls well after office hours with malicious intent and not maintaining proper dress code during online meetings and video conferences and calls.

In the survey in 2019 by the Pink ladder, that works for the improvement of gender diversity ratios in corporate companies. In their study it was found that 56% of the victims believed that sexual harassment at workplace is increased in recent time. They also spoke to many women of different organisations from Mumbai. Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai, who has the same perspective in this context.

Virtual Harassment during COVID-19

Virtual Harassment & Posh Act
Stressed woman in front of computer

During the COVID 19 pandemic, the lockdown has been a sole reason to shift the workplace to homes but in some circumstances harassment as well. For months people were not allowed to move out of their homes and were forced to remain indoors which also forced offices to shift and opt for work from home mode. Simultaneously, it has emerged with new challenges and an increase in complaints of virtual harassment.

The presence of the employees may be physically at home but they continue to operate as in the office while interacting with clients, colleagues and dealing companies. As we all know, the Zoom app has been considered to be the most used app when it comes to video conferencing and conducting meetings online. Therefore, employees on video conferencing shall follow a decent dress code while talking to clients and colleagues.

At several instances, when an employee is sitting at home in a comfortable environment, they tend to forget the work ethics and etiquettes. This has given rise to a casual approach in the working condition of the employees.

One of the lawyers in court quoted that “Work from home for companies and challenges like sexual harassment don’t get priority. The only way forward is to sensitize people”. The more sensitivity amongst the people will bring a huge change in the thought process of the society. 

Lawyers also highlight that filing of complaints are becoming more difficult in the scenario of work from home due to lack of acknowledgement. The companies shall take prior written consent of the concerned people working in the company with self declaration that there shall not be any recording devices. One on one meetings are not possible as there might be communication barriers and other factors which might destroy the gravity of the offence. 

Some examples and Statistics of the Virtual Harassment

  • In one of the meetings of the corporate company, Employee told his manager(woman) to schedule a virtual meeting and when the meeting began, the employee was found to be shirtless at video conferencing.
  • In other instances, employees were caught taking screenshots of the female colleague against her consent.
  • One of the managers in an IT company forced his female employee to attend a spontaneous virtual meeting at 11pm in the night and also insisted on her continuously to turn on her camera. When she finally does it, he is found intoxicated.

The statistical reports of  data shows that:

  • 56% of the employees believe that workplace harassment has increased over the years.
  • 53% of employees said that some way or the other they have been subject to sexual harassment in the form of gesture, jokes, and lewd comment.
  • 80% of employees are in a situation where they were aware of policies and laws but failed to complain due to hesitation.
  • 53% of the employees were not sure about continuing the office where the incident took place.
  • 55% of the employees told that the internal complaint committee was not fully compliant with POSH policies.

Governing Laws 

In this context, The prohibition of the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013 also known as POSH was enacted for the comprehensive legislation and protection of women from any form of sexual harassment. It talks about the secure environment for women to work and live in.

In this, every organization shall comply with all the rules and regulations mentioned in the act and also constituting the Internal Complaints Committee(ICC) for monitoring and preventing sexual harassment at the workplace as well.

Workplace has been defined under section 2(o) of the POSH Act which states that,

  • Any private sector organisation or a private venture, undertaking, enterprise, institution, establishment, society, trust, non-governmental organisation, unit or service provider carrying on commercial, professional, vocational, educational, entertainment, industrial, health services or financial activities including production, supply, sale, distribution or service.
  • The POSH Act defines harassment as any unwelcome, sexually determined physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of the harasser.

It seems very clear about the offence that takes place at a workplace but the question here arises whether Virtual Harassment falls under the ambit of the definition of workplace or not.

Complex synopsis of POSH Act,2013

The question of its applicability has reached many minds on video conferencing and any manner in which this act could be made applicable. In one of the recent studies, it was found that 91% of the leaders have implemented work from home policy for work since the outbreak of pandemic COVID 19. 

Therefore, the leader shall make themselves competent to fall under the ambit of the POSH Act for ensuring the safety of the women while working from home. This is not only needed till the lockdown period but also beyond that for upcoming years.

According to Gartner, a global research firm, the demand for work from home will be increased to 30% by 2030. The leaders shall be aware of this fact and knowledge about the laws and regulations to ensure that the virtual workplace shall remain safe and free from any form of harassment. In this time, stricter laws and suitable amendment shall be done to the POSH Act, for protecting the online medium of working for women.

Seriousness is important during COVID-19 scenario

In a current scenario, when every person is striving to work 24/7 and also in normal working conditions, it becomes essential to keep the message and consequences of sexual harassment clear in the mainstream. Proper programs for training and awareness are the prerequisites for every workplace. Leaders or managers should understand the ‘turning off camera’ when the other person is not ready for it.

The female employees shall not be forced to sign in for one on one video calls rather than there should be liberty to take calls in ‘audio mode’ only. Structured time slots shall be fixed for calling and contacting with the colleagues and shall avoid talking in the odd hours. The POSH training shall be mandatory for every person of the organization to attend where they must learn about the appropriate behaviour, dressing code, and every aspect related to video conferencing and meetings.

Webinars and short videos can be considered as a good foundation for educating and sensitizing the employees. The person shall maintain professional behavior at all times whether working from home or not. 

Conclusion 

Redressal Committee: The companies shall remember the need for the constitution and functioning of the Internal Complaints Committee for redress of grievances brought in to notice. This committee shall conduct monthly meetings with the employees and ensure the proper understanding of all the consequences of such complaints and offences. 

The POSH Act has been a tool for safeguarding the interest and protecting the right to dignity of women at the workplace by educating young minds who often get misled between professional life and normal life.

Lastly, the company shall adopt all the possible ways to act proactively and acknowledge that the workplace has a dynamic environment that needs continuous improvement related to safety and ensuring justice on each complaint.

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