The #MeToo wave against sexual harassment is in full swing. Corporate India has also been impacted by it, with companies like Tata Motors conducting an investigation into an alleged incident. However, these are not isolated instances. A deep dive by Moneycontrol showed that 616 cases of sexual harassment were filed across Nifty companies in FY18.
Among companies, the information technology (IT) sector accounted for 272 of the total complaints filed. Wipro, for instance, reported 101 cases. The high number is reflective of the gender ratios as well, since IT companies have a higher percentage of women employees than the others.
Similarly, traditional engineering and oil & gas companies had a low incidence of sexual harassment complaints being filed. These sectors employ 30 percent or less women as a portion of their total workforce.
One good news, however, is that only 2-4 percent of these complaints were pending at the end of FY18. So, while women are filing complaints, companies have been prompt in responding to the grievances.
What is sexual harassment?
According to Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, a series of unwelcome remarks and actions would constitute sexual harassment. These include physical advances, demand for sexual favours, making sexually-coloured remarks as well as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.
As per law, companies are required to have an internal complaints committee (ICC) in place, and required to disclose data related to such cases annually.
Not just employees, even temporary staff members and external partners can file complaints against the employees of a company.What are companies doing?
While it is a positive development that employees came forward and filed complaints, stricter enforcement of rules is the need of the hour.
Saundarya Rajesh, Founder-President, AVTAR Group, said companies should ensure that women are treated on par with their male counterparts to ensure that they feel safe at the workplace. “Considering that women also spend long hours at the workplace, companies need to ensure that policies are in place to make the office a ‘second home’ for working females,” she added.
All the Nifty constituents said in their annual reports that regular workshops on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act are being conducted in their offices. Further, sensitisation sessions for male employees is also being undertaken.
After the ICC report on the complaint is finalised, companies take a call on what action is to be taken against an erring employee. At Axis Bank, for instance, the ICC issues a warning letter and in some cases terminates employment depending upon the gravity of the violation.
If an employee is found guilty, most companies take serious action. At Bharti Airtel, for example, nine cases regarding sexual harassment at the workplace were reported and investigated. In six of these cases, the allegations were substantiated and the accused personnel were released from their services.Proactive versus reactive
Rather than waiting till a complaint is filed, some companies are taking proactive measures to prevent such incidents. For instance, at Hindustan Unilever
, women employees in offices are discouraged from working beyond 8.30 pm. Any instances of late working are detected by the attendance card reader and sent to the employee's line manager automatically.
For instance, at HUL, even if women are required to work till late, they are offered a drop home and escorted by a male colleague. They are also required to inform their line managers upon reaching home that they have reached safely.
Similarly, ICICI Bank has a quick response team (QRT) to respond to women employees if they are in distress while commuting. Each QRT is a specially equipped vehicle. It is GPS-enabled and carries a stretcher and fire extinguishers along with a team trained to deal with medical and personal safety-related emergencies.
While boycott and discriminatory practices against women who complain are some of the factors dissuading them from filing complaints. Companies like Infosys have policies to guarantee non-retaliation to complainants. Infosys also follows a gender-neutral approach when dealing with sexual harassment cases.Way forward
As more women enter the workforce, it is inevitable that POSH-related complaints will also increase. Human resource officials said it will be imperative to sensitise male employees and reinforce confidence among women to come forward and file complaints.
The urbanisation and movement of individuals to towns and metros will lead to increased job creation among women. As a senior lawyer in the field of employee relations said, “Both set of employees (male and female) will need to agree on what is acceptable behaviour. A friendly hug could be the norm at the workplace. But if a woman is not comfortable with this, it is inappropriate as per law.”
This story has been updated to reflect some changes. Tech Mahindra has clarified that while there were no legal cases filed under the POSH Act, there were 28 complaints investigated by the POSH committee and closed.