How should legal and human resources departments respond once a sexual harassment complaint has been raised? Gautam Kagalwala finds out

Some men willingly expose themselves to occupational risks by working in construction, law enforcement or an NGO in a conflict zone. These hazards can come in many shapes and sizes. But for women, there is an additional hazard at the workplace they must always be wary of – men. Experts say derogatory remarks or men seeking sexual favours are more commonplace than outright assault.

With poor awareness of their rights and institutional mechanisms to handle workplace harassment, female employees may directly air their grievances on social media. The result would be scrutiny from the media, in addition to legal risks. So, how should companies handle complaints made public?

When harassment occurs, it is up to the company’s human resources (HR) department and the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to handle the matter tactfully and empathically. The legal department has to carefully monitor and guide the company’s response due to the legal and reputational risks. The ICC is empowered by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH).

Harassment can also result in police involvement as it is a criminalized offence under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. The legislation, which amends the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, was passed following nationwide outrage over the fatal sexual assault of a physiotherapy intern in New Delhi aboard a bus, in December 2012.

Preeti Balwani, Kraft Heinz

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A call to arms – Lawyers and in-house counsel discuss how companies can stamp out sexual harassment and empower victims to come forward and file an official complaint in line with the POSH Act

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