Act's Compliance Guidelines

Who conducts Employee Sensitization in a Company under Sexual Harassment Law at Workplace

Employee sensitization is one of the legally mandated duties off an employer under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act. While the law is not very strict with its requirements regarding the same, there are certain practices that are best followed in order to ensure that organisations can efficiently achieve their objectives. A major factor regarding the effectiveness of the sensitization efforts carried out by an organisation is who conducts it.

What the Law lays down

According to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, there are no particular specifications regarding the person who is to conduct these sessions. The only responsibility that falls on a definite person is that the employer has to ensure that the gender sensitization of the employees takes place. However, it is up to the organisation to make the decision regarding who is to conduct these sessions.

What Companies are doing

Given that there are no strict guidelines in place on the part of the Act regarding who is to conduct such programs, organisations usually have a free rein to take decisions as per their requirements. In a majority of cases, the opt to outsource this task to a specialised trainer, lawyer or the external member of their ICC. In this case, the work is done by individuals who are qualified to do the same and, in most cases, have some previous experience in the area.

The people brought in to conduct employee sensitization programs are experts who are brought into the organisation due to their experience and knowledge in the field. In these cases, finding the experts poses a challenge in itself. This leads to most organisations wasting a large portion of their time and resources in finding an appropriately qualified individual to conduct the employee sensitization in their organisations.

What Companies ought to do

In order to understand what would be the best practice for an organisation under the provisions of the Act, it is first necessary to understand what exactly ought to be expected from a person who is brought in for the purpose of employee sensitization. One of the major requirements for such an expert is that he/she should a person who the employees of the organisation would be able to trust. When it comes to airing out one’s fears regarding the environment at work, there is generally a high level of inhibition which is observed in the cases where the grievances are brought to a person who is a part of the organisation. It is for this reason that external experts are usually seen as trustworthy on the part of the employees who view them as being external to the organisation.

As has been mentioned before, employee sensitization is not limited to making sure that the employees are aware of their rights. Rather, there are many interconnected elements which need to be addressed, which relate to the law that exists and the provisions under it, as well as root causes of instances of sexual harassment at the workplace. The challenge at hand for organisations is in finding an expert who would be able to deal with each of the elements.

One alternative for organisations in such cases is to look for individuals who are experts in each of the separate elements and have the sensitization be carried out by multiple experts rather than one person. While such an approach has the potential to be highly efficient, there would still remain the very real danger of the areas dealt with by the experts overlapping. In order to avoid this, it is always preferable for companies to find one person who is adequately qualified to conduct such sessions.

However, finding an adequately qualified person is often a challenge for organisations. The usual practice followed by them is to merely bring in a person who is a part of an NGO or an individual who is committed to the cause of women. The problem with this approach is that the experts brought in by the employer are not particularly well equipped to deal with issues which concern sexual harassment, and are unable to deal with the nuances that are required to be dealt with during employee sensitization.

The most effective alternative in such solutions is also one that is mostly ignored by companies. The external member of the ICC in an organisation is a person who is an expert in the field of sexual harassment law, and is also one who is aware of the workings of the particular organisation. There is a level of trust that the employees would have on the external member as they view him/her as being external to the organisation and would not have the same inhibitions in voicing their concerns to him/her as compared to someone working in the organisation. On the other hand, the management would be aware that the external member already has an understanding of the manner in which their organisation works, so he/she would be able to offer inputs that would specifically address the issues being faced by the organisation.

Clearly, having the external member conduct the employee sensitization programs is an effective and efficient solution. In this case the organisation need not worry about finding two separate experts, one for the ICC and the other to conduct the sensitization. However, this is not the current practice being followed by organisations. The reason for this is that most organisations are unaware that their external member is a viable choice for the same, as the law nowhere expressly declares it so. In the absence of such an express declaration, ost organistions are ignoring this alternative.

Conclusion

The major aim of employee sensitization is to ensure that the employees have the right perception regarding sexual harassment and the law around it. For this reason, it is necessary that the person taking such sessions is adequately qualified for the same. The person also has the duty to ensure that the provisions of the Act are properly understood, including the procedure for filing a complaint, as well as the manner in which each complaint is to be evaluated. The penalties for mala fide complaints are also to be dealt with in a thorough manner as it will ensure that male employees do not perceive the law as a piece of legislation that is working against them, while the female employees do not view it as a means to unlawful gain.

While the law is not restrictive as to who is permitted to conduct sessions regarding sensitization of employees, the common practice among organisations is for these sessions to be conducted by external experts who are brought in particularly for the task. However, as suggested, there exists a more efficient alternative. By ensuring that competent individuals from within the organisation are trained to conduct such sessions, the companies will be able to secure additional benefits. Firstly, they would not be required to bring in an external individual. Secondly, an internal member would be able to utilise his/her knowledge of the conditions in the workplace and modify such sessions to better suit the needs of the organisation. Thus, the question of “who” is to conduct such sessions could be solved in an efficient manner.

Author: This post has been submitted by Rohit Iyengar, as part of his assignment with Ungender Insights. Rohit Iyengar is currently a student of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

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