Corporate India awakens to sexual harassment threat

Mumbai, 7 May 2015

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  • According to the survey, 40% of the respondents were yet to train their Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) members, although the Act specifically mandates this
  • 35% of the respondents were unaware of the penal clause for non-compliance with laws relating to how ICCs should be constituted
  • 44% of the respondents’ organizations did not display the penal consequences of sexual harassment, at conspicuous places

Mumbai, 7 May 2015Corporate India’s commitment to empower and protect its women employees against sexual harassment at the workplace is unsatisfactory, according to a survey by EY Forensic & Integrity Services titled Reining in sexual harassment at the workplace’. The survey highlights that growing consciousness of issues relating to women’s safety at the workplace has compelled many organizations to take note of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 (referred as the ‘Act’); but the implementation and subsequent change is taking place at a sluggish pace. 

Arpinder Singh, Partner and Head- India and Emerging markets, Forensic & Integrity Services, EY extrapolates, “India Inc. has undergone significant changes prompted by the mandate of law during the past couple of years, but compliance is more a tick-in-the-boxapproach. The challenges which surround issues of sexual harassment at the workplace call for a refined thought process and robust mechanism. This means implementation of provisions which are prescribed under the Act, rationality and deeper level of understanding to assess each situation appropriately. These can be carried out suitably through skill enhancement and awareness trainings, which is still to mature in the corporate environment.”

The EY Forensic & Intergrity Services survey comprises the perceptions of over 120 senior executives, across MNCs and Indian companies. They span across various functions such as human resources, legal, risk, compliance, finance etc. The findings clearly demonstrate that there is substantial ground which companies need to still cover in their quest to efficiently curb instances of sexual harassment at the workplace and be compliant with the provisions under the Act.

The following points encapsulate the key findings from the survey:

  • The survey states that 40% of the respondents are yet to train their ICC members. It has been observed that in many cases the training provided is basic whereas a detailed skill-building program is needed to prepare ICC members to understand the sensitivities of such instances and the responsibilities to handle it more effectively.
  • The results of the survey indicated that over a quarter (27%) of the large companies and 50% of the small and medium companies that were surveyed were not compliant with the Act with respect to training their ICC members. This clearly shows that there is still a long way to go to address the issue of posh at the workplace.
  • 12% of the respondents were of the opinion that malicious complaints increase after appraisals and 50% of the respondents were unclear about the genuineness of the complaints received after assessment of the performance of employees. This indicates the challenges in ascertaining if the complaints received are malicious or frivolous, as it is difficult to verify the legitimacy of any complaints without thorough investigations and assessments.
  • 35% of the respondents were unaware of the penal clause for non-compliance with laws relating to how an ICC should be constituted. This could be a serious problem for companies as under the Act; they can face a penalty of INR 50,000 for their first violation and double for subsequent ones. In addition, there will be a damaging impact on the reputation of the entity.
  • 44% of the respondents’ organizations did not display the penal consequences of sexual harassments at conspicuous places. With the rise of informal work environments, this could prove to a major impediment as employees may not know that offhand comments or inappropriate behaviour could have serious repercussions.

The Act applies to an “aggrieved woman,” which is a woman, of any age and whether employed or not, who alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment. It also makes it mandatory for all establishments employing 10 or more employees to form an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). This means that it applies to a large number of entities in India and there is very little they can do to dodge their responsibility.

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