Arunabh Kumar: YouTube content channel The Viral Fever (TVF) was in the news in 2017, not for its videos. Founder Arunabh Kumar was accused of sexual harassment and had to resign as CEO of the company. (Image: Twitter)
Three years ago, a 36-year old woman accused her superior at a newspaper of sexual misconduct. He would not only allegedly make sexually coloured remarks, but also insist that she accompany him to his hotel room during field work. She was sacked and hasn’t found a job since.
Women victims of sexual harassment often choose to remain anonymous because their job prospects take a hit once they formally lodge a complaint. While such cases are treated with utmost sensitivity in companies, biases do creep in at the time of changing jobs.
Saundarya Rajesh, Founder, President at AVTAR Group, which specialises in diversity at the workplace, said: “There is a lot of headache around women filing a case, be it going to the internal complaints committee [ICC], having to appear before it and being the subject of further biases in the current organisation.”
Often, the current employer does not wish to get involved especially if the complaint was not properly resolved or if there was excessive publicity about a particular case. Rajesh said that biases do enter the picture when a woman has filed a complaint in the previous company. She added, however, that the increase in sensitisation has resulted in some changes.
The top listed companies on the Indian stock exchanges are much more careful and have zero tolerance towards sexual harassment at the workplace. Smaller companies, during the background verification process, also look at whether the particular candidate had lodged any sexual harassment complaint in the previous company.
“Though they would not explicitly state that they will not hire such candidates, the unsaid rule in several companies in India is to exclude such candidates for many senior posts,” said the chief executive of a global background verification company.
According to Indian laws, sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour such as physical contact and advances, request for sexual favours, showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
As per the guidelines of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, any organisation/branch of a company having at least 10 employees at a particular location is required to have an Internal Complaints Committee in place to look into grievances related to sexual harassment. Companies are even required to report them in their annual report and details related to closure of the case.
Human resource experts feel that victims should steer clear of companies which are not sensitive enough. Rituparna Chakraborty, Executive Vice President of TeamLease Services, explained that it is the perpetrator of crime and not the victim who should be subject to discrimination for any future employment.
“If a false case has been filed, then of course there will be anti-selection. However, if the incident was genuine, there is no reason why she should be subject to a bias,” she said.
HR consultants also recall cases where the ICC has not given out a clear cut decision for or against the accused. Such victims will have to wait till a full closure is received before they apply for another job.
In one case, a woman at an Indian conglomerate had complained about her boss making sexually coloured remarks. However, the case has not yet achieved closure and the complainant has moved abroad to seek better job prospects.
If the company finds the woman to be co-perpetrator in a case, be it flirting with the male perpetrator or giving inappropriate signals to his advances, she may also be charged. Hiring experts said that this makes any chance of employment bleak for the woman though she may not have intentionally been involved.
“Once a formal complaint is filed, it does not take time to spread to other companies," said a headhunter in Delhi. "It is indeed a challenge both for the concerned woman and hiring consultants to help them find a job. Companies are unwilling to get involved in controversies by hiring someone who has filed a case or has accused someone of improper behaviour.”