Time to Review ‘POSH Policy’ to Deal with Sexual Harassment in the Virtual Workplace 0

Time to Review ‘POSH Policy’ to Deal with Sexual Harassment in the Virtual Workplace
In times of COVID-19 and the emergence of “work from home” as the new norm, incidents of digital sexual harassment have cropped up in the virtual workplace. To address virtual harassment, organisations will have to reiterate the key message of the POSH Act and review the policy’s compliance processes periodically, train and sensitise employees, show employees where to draw the line between work and private life, and establish their own liability as employers.

Working remotely or work from home (WFH) has become the ‘new normal’ amid the coronavirus pandemic. During this pandemic situation, while female employees are managing their professional assignments, they are managing their household chores as well. In this scenario, if they face such a situation in which they feel awkward or harassed in the virtual workplace, it is worse to imagine. Most female employees ignore such scenarios despite being harassed due to their financial dependencies on the job.

So, here we will understand which acts fall under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment policy (POSH), how to incorporate new developments, and the process of communication to educate employees.

Employees in metro cities are more aware of sexual harassment as compared to tier-II cities. We need to make proper working guidelines to make amicable scenarios for female employees to work in a virtual workplace. Click To Tweet

Time to Review ‘POSH Policy’ to Deal with Sexual Harassment in the Virtual Workplace-3Employees in the metro cities are more aware of sexual harassment as compared to tier-II cities, as per the look-over. We need to make proper working guidelines to make amicable scenarios for female employees to work in a virtual workplace. The policy should clearly state that female employees shouldn’t be compelled to share their personal contact and other details with clients and stakeholders and even colleagues as an alternate contact option to connect for official purposes. This is important to maintain an employee’s personal information under the data privacy policy.

The organization should implement the policy clearly in which the process of communication and connect timing should be defined. As we all know, most of the female employees are nowadays working from home, so impromptu video calls can make female employees uneasy especially post working hours. Every employee cannot roam the entire day and night in official attire, hence such extempore individual video calls or group video calls can make anyone uncomfortable, and at that moment any comment on the attire of female employees will make for an embarrassing situation. Guidelines should be clear on this unless it is highly required to work post working hours video calls should be avoided. Screen sharing is available in all major web meeting tools in which employees can share their laptop screens with everyone to share their reports and tasks online to all.

Guidelines should state clearly that employees should avoid commenting on the attire or physical appearance of female employees during virtual calls. No video or audio call should be recorded, whether it’s a group call or individual call, without informing the other person. We should educate our employees not to take screenshots or to avoid any other medium to click the window of any female employee for capturing images of her and using them for making memes or jokes in a common group or any social network. They should be aware that such acts also fall under the POSH policy. Section 2 (o) sub-clause (vi) defines the workplace as “a dwelling place or a house.”

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Hence, we should maintain the decorum in this ‘new normal’ environment like we used to maintain it in the office before the COVID-19 scenario. As per one survey, female employees don’t consider work from home to be a safer option as compared to being in office. Personal life is getting more exposed due to virtual connectivity and risks that female employees were exposed to at the office, continue even while working from home. There have been various incidents of digital sexual harassment in the virtual workplace — sharing inappropriate texts and voice messages, inappropriate personal clicks, wearing inappropriate clothes during virtual calls in which female employees are participating, all come under the umbrella of visual sexual harassment.

As per one survey, female employees don’t consider work from home to be a safer option as compared to being in office. Personal life is getting more exposed due to virtual connectivity and risks that female employees were exposed to at the office, continue even while working from home.

Organizations should make employees understand that if you are working late hours that do not allow you to assume that you can text or call your colleague in those hours. During POSH training, if we tell our employees how to behave and maintain professionalism over virtual calls then we should also tell them to analyze when they should make video calls or when they should not. There should be some courtesy before making a video call to your female colleague after her working hours, which can be started from making a voice call and post her affirmation, a voice call can be converted into a video call if there is such a requirement.

There could be some instances where a male employee needs to visit a female employee’s place for some official reason or to collect any company asset or document from her place. Such activities should be pre-informed and acknowledged by the female employee. Odd hour visits should not be made except in ad hoc situations and when employees are not reachable over a call or any other medium of communication in this exigency.

Organizations must ensure that such cases where any female employee registers complaint of harassment should be taken into consideration as per policy’s norms. Such incidents can be addressed over virtual meetings so that the female employee can get the assurance of action taken against her complaint.

It is a trend nowadays to make groups of teams, groups of colleagues, or groups of a few employees working closely on social networking apps. We must incorporate such activities as part of the POSH policy in which employees cannot add their female colleagues in a group without their consent. We should educate our team to not to forget basic workplace norms and keep their conversation and communication work-related only. Casual talks should be avoided which can make female employees uncomfortable be it attire, personal things and anything which does not fall under professional talk.

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Time to Review ‘POSH Policy’ to Deal with Sexual Harassment in the Virtual Workplace-2Organizations should educate their front-line managers; team leads and top managers to comply with POSH policy carefully. The leader should educate down the line team for policy and its purpose. Leaders are the ones who are supposed to initiate from their desks to set an example for others. Leaders must ensure that they are using proper parliament language in group meetings and avoiding harsh words, slangs, or insults to anyone be it male or female employee. A leader’s aggressiveness should not cross the limit of decency to maintain the decorum of a professional hub, or else a leader’s foul language in group discussion will be taken as an admissible method of communication for others to treat their down the line team in the same manner.

Organizations should assess their employees on reasonable performance expectations and it should be gender-neutral. Leaders should avoid pointing out someone’s gender during task allocation. Generally, it is understood that when any important task comes to the floor, the leader directly hands over that task to a male employee assuming that this is not possible for a female employee to complete in extended hours, as she is a woman. Such gender-biased remarks and allocation of opportunity is also a kind of mental harassment in which equal opportunity to grow is seized.

To conclude, organizations should review existing POSH policy and should make the needful incorporation of ‘new normal’ i.e. work from home in the policy to ensure a healthy working environment for female employees when the office has reached home and their personal life is getting unveiled to the office. We must train and educate the team on what to speak and what not to speak in this new environment. Every employee does not have a separate space to work at home, EMPLOYEE WELL-BEING so your conversation and body language can be questionable in the eyes of their family members if anyone uses foul language or any communication which is not professional and coming post working hours especially when it is not that important.

All company communication should be done over the official contact number and web tool, or virtual chat room provided by the organization. Personal interaction on someone’s personal number should be avoided. Organizations must ensure that such cases where any female employee registers complaint of harassment should be taken into consideration as per policy’s norms. Such incidents can be addressed over virtual meetings so that the female employee can get the assurance of action taken against her complaint.

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Ankur Gautam is the Senior Manager- HRBP at Unicode Systems Private Limited. He is a seasoned human resource professional with over 15 years of work experience in various facets of HR. He is a post-graduate in International Business from Pondicherry University. His specialties includeCompensation & Rewards, HR Analytics, Talent Development, Talent Acquisition, HR Policies design, Change Management, Manpower Planning & Statutory. Previously, he has worked with organisations like Sahara India, Sigma Trade Wings and Energy & Fire Tech India Private Limited As per him, employee happiness can make any milestone achievable.

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