The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act

Introduction

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act, 2013, is a landmark legislation in India that aims to create safe and secure working environments for women. This Act defines, prohibits, and lays down the procedures for the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at workplaces. Let’s delve deeper into the provisions, mechanisms, and ongoing discussions surrounding the PoSH Act.

Key Provisions of the PoSH Act:

Definition of Sexual Harassment: The Act defines sexual harassment broadly, encompassing physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favors, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography, and any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

Applicability: The Act applies to all workplaces, whether public or private, including government establishments, companies, hospitals, educational institutions, and NGOs. It protects women of all ages, regardless of their employment status (regular, contractual, or temporary).

Prohibition of Sexual Harassment: The Act prohibits all forms of sexual harassment at the workplace and mandates employers to take proactive measures for prevention and redressal.

Employer’s Responsibilities: The Act lays down specific responsibilities for employers, including:

Formulating a written Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy (ASHP) as per the Act’s guidelines.

Displaying the ASHP prominently at the workplace.

Conducting awareness programs and training for employees on the Act and its provisions.

Setting up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to investigate complaints of sexual harassment.

Taking prompt action based on the ICC’s recommendations.

District Officers under the PoSH Act:

The Act designates the District Officer (DO) as the nodal officer for workplaces where an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) hasn’t been constituted. Aggrieved women can directly file complaints with the DO if their workplace lacks an ICC. The DO is responsible for investigating the complaint and taking appropriate action as per the Act.

Safeguard Mechanisms:

The PoSH Act provides several safeguard mechanisms for both complainants and respondents:

Confidentiality: The Act ensures confidentiality throughout the complaint process, protecting the identities of both the complainant and the respondent.

Time-Bound Investigation and Redressal: The Act mandates time limits for the ICC to investigate complaints and submit its report. The employer is further bound by timelines to take action based on the ICC’s recommendations.

Right to Appeal: The aggrieved woman and the respondent have the right to appeal against the ICC’s recommendations to an appellate authority designated by the employer.

Internal Complaints Committee (ICC):

The ICC is the heart of the PoSH Act’s complaint redressal mechanism. It’s a committee constituted by the employer to investigate complaints of sexual harassment within the workplace. The ICC typically comprises a Presiding Officer (a senior woman, preferably a retired judge or a woman of repute), an external member (from an NGO or association working for women’s rights), and an employee representative.

The ICC’s responsibilities include:

Investigating complaints of sexual harassment received from women employees.

Providing a fair and impartial hearing to both the complainant and the respondent.

Recording evidence and preparing a report with its findings and recommendations.

Forwarding the report to the employer for appropriate action.

Local Complaints Committee (LAC):

The Act also recognizes the Local Complaints Committee (LAC) as an alternative mechanism for complaint redressal.  This option is available in situations where workplaces lack the infrastructure to set up an ICC, typically for workplaces with less than 10 employees. The LAC comprises members nominated by the District Officer and is mandated to follow similar procedures as the ICC for investigating complaints.  However, the LAC system has limitations in terms of expertise and effectiveness compared to an ICC.

Lacunae of the PoSH Act:

Despite its positive intentions, the PoSH Act has certain limitations:

Limited Scope: The Act only applies to complaints filed by women employees. Complaints by male employees or transgenders against sexual harassment are not explicitly covered.

Focus on Formal Complaints: The Act primarily focuses on formal complaints filed through the ICC/LAC system.  This may discourage women who are hesitant to pursue a formal route due to fear of stigma or repercussions.

Implementation Challenges: Effective implementation remains a challenge due to factors like lack of awareness about the Act, inadequate training of ICC members, and potential employer apathy.

Limited Penalties: The Act prescribes penalties for non-compliance, but these might not be sufficiently deterrent.

Recommendations for Improvement:

Expanding Scope:  Consider extending the Act’s coverage to encompass sexual harassment of all genders and transgenders.

Informal Complaint Resolution Mechanisms:  Encourage the development of robust internal complaint.

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