The rapid rise of startup ventures like Flipkart, FreshDesk, Zomato, Ola, and others has created a new era driven by technology. These young entrepreneurs have reshaped the working culture. When startups are built by people coming straight out of college, or otherwise, they usually start from a small room, recruit friends and their associates. Sometimes, these startups are seen as an extension of hostel culture. Disruption may be the mainstay of their game, but it is imperative to have some ground rules to save themselves from sexual misdemeanors.
A survey by FICCI and EY shows that more than 46% of Indian companies, and 25% of MNCs, are not complying with Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law (POSH).
In an effort to enable a safe and inclusive workplace for women, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, and the rules therein (POSH Laws) was implemented. Despite the law making it mandatory for organisations with ten or more employees to have an anti-sexual harassment policy, startups still don’t have a framework to cater to sexual harassment issues. This is not just a non-compliance concern, but it has huge implications on governance, reputation and talent acquisition by companies. Typically, at a startup, everything is driven by passion and they wink at the idea of having any sort of concrete policies.
At the early stage of a startup, employees come from a close network. But, as the organisation grows and hire more, they need to comply with certain laws such as POSH.
Last year, chief executive of The Viral Fever, an online entertainment startup, had to step down because of sexual harassment charges against him. Since then, even the investors are scrutinising HR laws of a company before they invest. Indian investors and entrepreneurs are concentrating more on the security of women at workplace. The idea is to have sexual harassment training and POSH policy at workplace.
Recently, the Madras High Court directed a company to pay Rs 1.68 crore as damages for sexual harassment to an aggrieved woman. In another case, the Delhi High Court directed the Delhi Public School Society (DPSS) to pay Rs 8.50 lakh as compensation to four of its former women employees who were removed from their jobs, and for failing to take action against the school principal who sought sexual favours from them.
The Karnataka state labour department has also imposed a monthly penalty of Rs 50,000 for five years on a senior manager of IP Infusion Software India Private Limited, Bengaluru, who is facing charges of sexual harassment. The department also directed the company not to promote him or give him any hike for the next three years.
Every organisation must formulate an internal policy for the prohibition, prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace, intended to promote gender-sensitive safe spaces and remove underlying factors that contribute towards a hostile work environment against women.
Organisations must form an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and carry out orientation and training programs and seminars for the members.
Meetings must be conducted by the ICC to discuss issues and resolve matters of sexual harassment, and submit an annual report regarding the number of complaints received and resolved to the district officer concerned.
Organisations must also carry out employee training and awareness programmes regarding sexual harassment at workplace. All the rights available to the employees against sexual harassment must be displayed at the workplace, along with the name and contact details of all the ICC members.
Non-compliance of POSH laws is a serious issue, and also attracts penal action. The consequences of non-compliance are quite severe. A monetary penalty of up to Rs 50,000 can be imposed if you fail to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee.
India’s leading legal advice and lawyer search platform LawRato.com offers annual POSH Compliance options to companies across India.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)