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PoSH at the workplace

 By Kethosinuo Tepa

Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered a violation of women's right to equality, life, and liberty. It creates an insecure and hostile work environment, which discourages women's participation in work, thereby adversely affecting their social and economic empowerment and the goal of inclusive growth. With this view, the  Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, also known as the PoSH Act was passed in 2013. The PoSH Act has been implemented to prevent and protect women from sexual harassment at the workplace and thereby ensure a safe working environment for women.

What is sexual harassment?

Every person has their own space and boundary, if those personal boundaries are violated in any form, having a sexual angle or double meaning to it, or if someone does or says something at the expense of someone’s boundary, it can be understood as sexual harassment. 

According to Section 2 (n) of the PoSH Act, misusing hierarchy for any one or more of the following acts directly or indirectly is considered sexual harassment.

  • Physical- Any unwelcome advance or touch
  • Verbal- Demand for sexual favors and sexually colored comments/jokes/compliments
  • Non-verbal- Sending pornography material eg- audio messages or clips having sexual sounds. Staring and lewd gestures.

It is important to note that a perpetrator’s claim that a comment or action was meant as a joke or a compliment is not a defense in a sexual harassment case. There are also some forms of sexual harassment that are criminal offenses.  These include unwanted touching, sexual assault, or rape.  

PoSH Act

Under Section 4, the Act is applicable for places with more than 10 employees, and compliance with the law is compulsory for both public and private organizations. The Act makes it mandatory for every employer to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)  to inquire into complaints of sexual harassment.  The ICC should consist of four members i.e., (i) a woman presiding officer, who should be a senior-level employee; (ii) two employees dedicated to women's causes and having pre-requisite experience in social or legal work; (iii) one member from a non-governmental organization working for women's causes or a person familiar with issues of sexual harassment.

Provisions are provided under the Act to form Local Complaints Committee (LCC) for every district for receiving complaints of sexual harassment from establishments where the ICC has not been formed due to having less than 10 workers or if the complaint is against the employer himself.

Further, under Section 2 (e,f,g) of the Act, the scope of the workplace includes any and all units, branches, offices, establishments of any organization, and any place visited by an employee during employment including the transportation provided by such entity for undertaking such journey. It also includes the aggrieved victim, who could be a woman “of any age whether employed or not”, who “alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment”. This meant that the rights of all women working or visiting any workplace, in any capacity, were protected under the Act.

The Act also lays down certain duties of the employer under Section 19 such as creating awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, sensitizing the employees, assisting the complaints committee in conducting the inquiry, acting upon recommendations of the committee, and monitoring timely submissions of reports of the committee, etc.

Redressal process

The incident should be of sexual harassment taking place at the workplace. Complaints are to be handled and redressed by the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). Technically, the aggrieved victim doesn't need to file a complaint for the ICC to act. Section 9 says that she may do so — and if she cannot, any member of the ICC shall render all reasonable assistance to her to complain in writing. If the woman cannot complain because of “physical or mental incapacity or death or otherwise”, her legal heir may do so.

Under the Act, the complaint must be made within three months from the date of the incident. The ICC may, before the inquiry, and at the request of the aggrieved woman, take steps to settle the matter between her and the respondent through conciliation — provided that no monetary settlement shall be made as a basis of conciliation.

If the aggrieved woman does not want to proceed with the conciliation process, the ICC will proceed with the inquiry under Section 11 of the Act. The ICC can either forward the victim’s complaint to the police, or it can start an inquiry that has to be completed within 90 days. The identity of the woman, respondent, witness, or any information on the inquiry, recommendation, and action taken, the Act states, should not be made public (Section 16).

Sexual harassment against women with disabilities

Everyone and anyone can experience sexual harassment at work. However, women are more likely to experience sexual harassment than men. Sexual harassment at work sits within a wider, systemic experience of violence against women and girls at home, in education, and public and digital spaces. It is part of the everyday context of the lives and experiences of women and girls across India. When looking at women’s experience of sexual harassment, it is clear that some groups, including the disabled, are affected in different and disproportionate ways, their particular experiences being shaped by structural discrimination and pervasive, harmful stereotypes. 

Disabled people have been consistently stripped of the fundamental rights that non-disabled people enjoy. Disabled people are also stereotyped by a damaging and pervasive belief that they are asexual, influencing discriminatory infantilization of disabled people. These attitudes underpin the dehumanizing of disabled women so perpetrators can justify to themselves any violence/crimes they perpetrate as not of the same magnitude as violence perpetrated against non-disabled women.

During UN Women’s consultations, women with disabilities shared that they do not report sexual harassment for fear of retaliation. In a society where employment rates for women with disabilities are already extremely low and health insurance or other essentials for life may be reliant upon employment, the prospect of losing their job is too high a risk. Several women shared that they do not report given that their workplace has already made specific accommodations for them. Not being sufficiently appreciative or being overly demanding are potential risks, therefore, of reporting sexual harassment to women with disabilities.

These harmful stereotypes and the structural discrimination they support, shape disabled women and girls’ experience of sexual violence.


As the obligation of safe workplaces lies on the companies and organizations, most of them have started to put in sincere efforts to make the workplace safer for women. Even though the Act is in force since 2013, the awareness regarding the consequences of sexual harassment and its redressal against the same is limited. We need to not only create awareness but also have the obligation to sensitize both genders about its ill effects on individuals in particular, and society in general. The effective implementation of the PoSH Act not only requires creating an environment where women can speak up about their grievances without fear and get justice but sensitization of men towards the treatment of women in the workplace is equally necessary.



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