POSH and the False Allegations!

The POSH Act; Prevention of sexual harassment of women at the work place Act passed in 2013 by the Government of India has left organisations geared up and leaving no stone unturned to comply with the law of the land. The responsibility and onus of making the workplace safe for women now rests squarely on the shoulders of the Employer. No doubt, this has come as a breather for women, but does it have the same impact on the minds of

Well, the POSH Act as it stands now is skewed and incomplete for it does not cover the men at the workplace! Does it mean that men are not sexually harassed at the work place? Well we do know that sexual harassment of men exists, though it is not as rampant as women being harassed by men. However, when it does occur, it is passed off on a lighter vein! “Enjoy the extra attention dude!” or “Are you not macho enough to handle it?” are some of the succinct statements that come in the way of resolving the underlying problem.

Unlike International law, such as in the US of A and UK (Equal Opportunities Act), where discrimination is prohibited at all levels, that includes race, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc; and both work place harassment and sexual harassment covers men, women, transgender, and same sex harassment too, the Sexual Harassment Act in India has a long
way to go! As a result, it comes as no surprise that men have some “real” fears on this subject matter.

‘It is like walking on egg shells all the time!’
‘What if; whatever I say or do is misinterpreted as sexual harassment?’
‘What if I am a victim of false allegation?’
‘Is there any one that I can reach out to?’

It is good to know that the POSH Act recognises such a possibility and has put measures in place to protect men from false accusation. For this, first let us understand what constitutes false allegation?

‘False allegation’ is when a woman complains that she is being sexually harassed by a man while at work, though she is fully aware that he has done no wrong or attempts to prove her case using forged or misleading documents. False allegations occur rarely compared to real or perceived instances of sexual harassment. Some of the reasons behind false allegations that we have come across are:

The call for a romantic relationship by the lady has been spurned Two people are in a relationship, but after sometime, there is a fall out For seeking personal gain at work There are some serious work-related issues, or underlying conflicts and the man unfortunately becomes a scape goat.

What can a victim of false allegation, also called the ‘respondent’ according to POSH Act do?

  1. Know that the respondent has the right to receive the copy of the complaint within a week of its receipt
  2. The Act provides the respondent 10days to prepare his response! So, there is no need to panic!
  3. Keeping conversations professional and to the point
  4. Keeping memos of emails/messages intact
  5. Keeping the HR/ ICC or the Internal Complaints committee informed well in advance, where possible of advances and or threats likely to be made

It is very important for the organisation to have a robust committee in place to handle sexual harassment complaints. The Internal Complaints Committee constituted by the organisation in alliance with the mandate of the law, has an external member who brings in the ‘neutral’

perspective. The external member as well as the other members of the committee should have the maturity and sensitivity to handle such cases. An unbiased and non-judgemental stance with respect to genders is very important. An attitude or an unconscious bias of ‘men are always right’ or ‘women are always right’ can be catastrophic!

Gathering facts and thoroughly analysing the situation will go a long way in working through false allegations. It is good to know that the POSH Act calls for the same disciplinary actions to be meted out to the false complainant as it does to one who has been found to be guilty of having committed sexual harassment at the work place. This ranges from a written apology to termination at the other end of the spectrum. There is after all…light at the end of the tunnel!

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