Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace - POSH Act

Sexual harassment of women in workplaces is one of the major hurdles in gender equality. 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) were brought into force. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) at workplace Act is applicable to every workplace, establishment, company or organization with more than 10 employees.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual Harassment of a woman is the most daunting and demoralising experience that an individual can go through at their workplace. It degrades the work environment and is a humongous hurdle for gender equality. It outrightly reduces an employee’s will to work and disrespects the fundamental rights guaranteed to individuals by the Constitution of India.

What is POSH Act?

The victims of sexual harassment face several physiological effects, such as stress, shame, guilt, depression and no employee would be able to work optimally while being in such a situation. In order to overcome the menace and for overall protection from sexual harassment against women, the Government enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. This Act is popularly known as the POSH Act. The Act along with the POSH rules are together known as the POSH laws.

How is Sexual Harassment defined under the POSH Act?

According to Section 2(n) of the POSH Act, any of the following (either directly or by implication) shall include sexual harassment:

  1. physical contact and advances;
  2. a demand or request for sexual favours;
  3. making sexually coloured remarks;
  4. showing pornography;
  5. any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

Section 3 of the POSH Act further widens the definition of sexual harassment by stating that any of the following also amount to sexual harassment:

  1. implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in the victim’s employment;
  2. implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in the victim’s employment;
  3. implied or explicit threat about the victim’s present or future employment status;
  4. interferes with the victim’s work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her and
  5. humiliating treatment likely to affect the victim’s health or safety.

The POSH Act defines the terms ‘sexual harassment’, ‘workplace’ and ‘aggrieved woman’, understanding of which are important so as to ensure a harassment free environment at a workplace. It also gives mandates such as the constitution of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) that are to be followed by organisations/employers. Rules regarding the Local Complaints Committee, making of a complaint and the inquiry by ICC are also covered extensively. Other duties of the employer such as providing a safe working environment and display of penal consequences of sexual harassment are also stated in the Act.