The Sexual Harassment (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 read with the Sexual Harassment (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013 collectively referred to as, "POSH Law", grants protection against sexual harassment of women in the workplace.This Act is remarkable as in it covers all women, regardless of their employment status, whether they work in the organised or unorganised, public or private sectors, and regardless of their position in the hierarchy. Domestic workers are also included in the scope of the law.
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What are the obligations of the employer?
- To establish an Internal Complaints Committee
The employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee at every organization having more than 10 employees, headed by a woman as its presiding member. The majority of the members of the Internal Complaints Committee should be women, with at least one external member. An Internal Complaints Committee needs to be constituted even if there are no women employees working at present at the establishment.
- To implement a well-drafted POSH Policy
The employer is obliged to put in place, a well drafter anti-sexual harassment policy by a lawyer and to also aware the employees of the same.
- To display the Policy
The POSH Policy must be circulated among the employees. The employer is also required to display the same at conspicuous places in the workplace along with repercussions of sexual harassment. They are also required to conspicuously display composition of the Internal Complaints Committee along with their contact details.
- To treat sexual harassment as misconduct
Any instance of sexual harassment must be treated as misconduct. The employment agreements, service rules, policies and procedures and standing orders must clearly state that sexual harassment will be treated as misconduct.The consequences of sexual harassment must also be clearly stated like deducting wages, termination of employment, etc.
- To sensitise employees regarding sexual harassment at workplace.
It is the responsibility of all employers to educate and sensitise their staff about the subject of sexual harassment. Employers must hold training and seminars to promote awareness about workplace sexual harassment among their employees.
- To submit the Annual Report
The Internal Complaints Committee is required to submit annual reports to the appropriate authority and the employer under provisions of this Act. The employer further is required to include information of cases filed, disposed to the District Officer.
The Annual Report
- Annual Report By Internal Committee
Section 21 of Sexual Harassment (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 mandates submission of annual report in each calendar year to employer and the District Officer.
Article 22 of the Act directs the employer to include information in the annual report which shall include number of cases filed, any disposal of the cases reported and intimate such number of cases to the district officer.
- Details required in the Annual Report
Rule 14 of the Law states that the following details need to be included in the Annual Report -
Number of complaints of sexual harassment received in the year
Number of complaints disposed of during the year
Number of cases pending for more than ninety days;
Number of workshops or awareness programme against sexual harassment carried out
Nature of action taken by the employer or District Officer.
- Who should sign on the annual report?
Once the entire Internal Complaints Committee has seen and approved the contents of the report, the Presiding officer should sign the annual report for and on behalf of the Internal Complaints Committee.
- Do all members of the IC need to sign the Annual Report?
The Annual Report should ideally be signed by all members of the Internal Complaints Committee. However, the Presiding Officer can sign the Annual Report on behalf of the Internal Complaints Committee. It should be assured that the Internal Complaints Committee has confirmed the Annual report in writing or by email in this situation. Essentially, because all members of an Internal Committee are responsible for the development of an Annual Report, it should be verified that all members have verified the Annual Report before submission.
- Whom to submit?
The Internal Complaints Committee must submit one copy of the annual report to the employer and another copy to the District officer.
- Should the annual report be hand delivered/couriered/filed online?
The Annual Report can be delivered by courier or by hand, depending on the convenience of the organisation. An acknowledgement of submission must be kept for records if it is delivered by hand. If you're sending something via courier, keep the courier's receipt for your records. It is strongly advised that the Report be sent by registered mail. Additionally, an email containing the Annual Report can be sent to the various District Officers at the same time, if accessible.
Some District Officers may enable Annual Reports to be filed online for their districts, while others may demand a paper copy. For each district, this must be certified.
Additional documents to be put along with the Annual Report
- POSH Policy: It is advantageous for organizations to state whether they have developed an internal policy in accordance with the POSH Act and if so, a copy of the policy should be included in the Annual Report.
- Details of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC): Mention details of ICC members in each branch having more than 10 members.
- Displaying ICC member details: Mention if IC member's details have been displayed in office premise in an approachable place in English, Hindi and local language.
- Employee awareness sessions: Details about awareness sessions like seminars, workshops, trainings, quiz, competitions conducted throughout the year.
- Preparation of Annual reports
The annual report is prepared by the Internal Complaints Committee and also the employer under Section 22 needs to include the number of cases filed and disposal of the organisation.
- Last date to submit the report
The POSH Law is silent about any last date for submission of Annual Reports. POSH at Work(Empanelled by ministry of Women & Child Development, GOI) recommends that in case there are no notifications to the contrary, reports should be submitted by 31st January every year.
Example : The district officer of Gurugram vide order dated November 12, 2021, directed all organizations (government as well as non-government organizations) to submit their annual reports by April 30th of the following year. Hence, their deadline is 30th April as opposed to 31st January.
Failure of submission of Annual Report
Section 26 of the Act has put a penalty for contravention of the provisions of the Act with a fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees.
The step post failing to meet the timeline is not provided by any provisions but can be justified amicably by the Internal Committee/ employer to the District Officer. It is upon the discretion of the District Officer to waive of the fine or not.
Annual reports serve the purpose of providing data regarding the implementation of the POSH Law with information of sexual harassment complaints filed, disposed of, and pending at every organization.
A need for clarification of annual report submission deadlines is a required step in the process of streamlining compliance of submission of annual reports. A unified date across the country would eliminate the ambiguity in submission of annual reports and ease the process for employers and the Internal Committee.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.