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A day to think about building “Safer” workspaces

 


 

It is a beautiful winter morning and I want to share with all of you something that I deal with everyday of my life. I am going to tell you in the next few paragraphs, what you can do as an entrepreneur who represents to future of India Inc, as far as a  pervasive problem for us women  is concerned. Most young women join the industry with a lot of vigour and energy, and a promise to make a real difference. However, they often stop short of their dreams, and even leave the industry where they wanted to work because of this problem. You have heard of it – sexual harassment. And there is a world of difference young entrepreneurs can do to how women are treated in Indian corporate culture. Every little step you take today towards workplace equality will have profound and lasting effect on the future of how women participate in the workforce of this country and how productive they would be, and how fair will be the workplaces of the future to both men and women. However, if you are running short on time (which is the usual case for all us startup founders), here is something that would catch your attention quickly:

If you have at least 10 people in your team right now, you NEED to read this till the end. 

As a startup founder you worry about a lot of things – revenues, team building, marketing, technology, operations, SEO and what not. You also hired a CA to make sure that while you are busy focusing on all this, your CA ensures that you are compliant with all the laws as required.

Not that I don’t care about other compliances, but this post is only about one specific compliance which is focusing on building a safe and friendly working environment – the sexual harassment laws in India.

Have you heard about it? (I expect very few nods on this but feel free to surprise me)

Have you been reading about it? There are news reports around this issue and incidents being highlighted on social media all the time.

What you need to know

Despite all this, if you still have not heard about it or have not acted upon it to become compliant so far – I want to quickly prepare you do so effortlessly right away. Here is a simple list of facts you must know about this law:

1.    This law is known as the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 and came into effect in December 2013 post Nirbhaya incident.

2.    This act is specifically for the protection of women at workplaces against any form of sexual harassment.

3.    Every entity or even individual employer operating in India with 10 or more members (including full time, part time, contractual, third party vendors) is required to comply with this law

4.    Even if you have an all male member team, you are still required to comply with this law. You may not have any woman team member, but the law assumes that you will consider women for hiring in future and therefore you must be compliant to this law. Also, remember you may have women as cleaning staff, client, vendor, or in any other role interacting with your organization.

 What you must know

 By now, you would have already realised whether or not your company falls under this compliance. I am also sure that some of you would be wondering as to what would be the consequences if you don’t comply with this law. So here is what the law says will happen if you are found to be non-compliant:

1.    Fine of INR 50,000

2.    Cancellation of business license for repeat offenders

3.    Prosecution and possible imprisonment for directors/officers/promoter in case of a severe incident in a non-compliant environment

Take note that if you are a Director of a company, your liability may range from anywhere between INR 50,000 to 25 lakhs. In case you wish to read more about this, you may refer to the detailed blog here.

I do not want you running around to now figure out more about this law. I also do not want you to ignore this because you know very well that this is a “law” that law enforcement takes very seriously. Lastly, I do not want you to think that this is something you can focus on only when you are large enough and you have a large employee base to worry about such incidents. You may have the friendliest and the safest of the workplace – I am sure you do. However, if implementing a few best practices provides you preventive mechanisms against any possible future unwanted incidents, and keeps the women in your team comfortable and safe, then why not? Plus, it is not that difficult.

 What you need to do

1.    Create an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) comprising of four members out of which 50% should be female and should have one external expert member. Take note that if you have multiple locations, you need to create a separate ICC for every location. I suggest keep the Head of the ICC and external member common and choose the remaining individuals from local offices.

2.    Display physical notices around the workplace with information on the ICC and its members. These notices should include the penal consequences of violation of this policy at the workplace for all employees.

3.    Create a policy on sexual harassment laws and include it in the employment contract to make employees legally bound for the violation of this policy. 

4.    Organize sensitization sessions for employees on a periodic interval to ensure they are aware of the law. Take note that the law requires 100% sensitization on this.

5.    Create processes and infrastructure to facilitate the proceedings of any incident or investigation undertaken by the ICC.

6.    Maintain proper documentation and records of initiatives and proceedings undertaken by ICC and management with respect to the compliance of this law.

7.    Provide sufficient and diligent support to the complainant in extreme matters where Police authorities need to be involved.

8.    Submit information pertaining to sexual harassment cases to the District officer or file it along with annual report containing the details on number of instances reported and disposed, initiatives taken for sensitization of employees and training sessions conducted for the ICC members.

9. Conduct capacity building training programs for all your ICC members to build their technical, legal and procedural knowledge with respect to this law

Simple isn’t it. Get your CA to act on it or you may also write to me and I will guide you through it. Trust me, in this case prevention is way lot cheaper, better and safer than dealing with the cure! 

Pls shoot as many questions as you can here in the comments, I’m happy to answer everything I can. 

P.S. – There is a way to use this law and implement gender neutral policy for all genders working in your team. Buzz me and I will tell you how. 

P.P.S. – If you are already compliant with the above mentioned law and/or have build mechanisms in your organization to ensure the safety of your team members irrespective of gender, let me know. I would like to add it as a case study! 🙂

Cheers!

@PallaviPareek

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8 Comments

  1. Profile photo of asha chaudhry

    hey thanks so much for sharing this pallavi.

    let’s hope this helps many startups enabling this at their workplace.

    i’m very pro-HR, pro-community, pro-women initiatives and reckon each workplace needs to ensure women are not discriminated in ANY WAY. be it sexually or when it comes to growing in the organisation or being compensated fairly.

    women aren’t paid as well as their male counterparts/co-founders are. there is a huge prejudice (remember satya nadella’s unfortunate “good karma” remark that he apologised about later?http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/oct/10/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella-women-dont-ask-for-a-raise)

    this doesn’t fall under sexual harassment of course. but any unfair practice in a the workplace needs to be addressed.

    i hope with laws like these more and more women come out and complain about the prejudices (sexual or non sexual) they face at work.

    perhaps that should be your next post?

    🙂

    the recent myntra tvc is a great example (ps i’m doing an unrelated post on such tvcs :))


     

  2. Profile photo of Amod Gokhale

    Hi Pallavi, 

    Nice article. It’s important to make people aware of laws. My company has release an FREE app for same. Please try it, hopefully it will be useful to you 

    iPhone – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sexual-harassment-women-at/id992388732?ls=1&mt=8

    Windows Phone – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/phoneappid/60b92bf7-5903-4774-a640-d2d7473edb86

    Android – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rachittechnology.TheSexualHarassmentofWomenatWorkplaceAct2013

    Blackberry – https://appworld.blackberry.com/webstore/content/59964936/?countrycode=IN&lang=en

    ~Amod

  3. Profile photo of Pallavi Pareek

    Thanks Asha. In my experience, compliance with this law should be looked at as a tool to start talking about these issues. Most of the companies and setups are not even thinking in this direction. They will think about thousand different things but not this. To be compliant means now there is a structure, process and a dedicated team in the form of Internal Complaint Committee members who will discuss these concerns in their regular meetings. And then transformation will happen. If every workspace no matter how small or big will look at it from this angle, other harassment issues which currently are not covered by this law will surface and then initiatives will be designed to take care of them. If we will wait for some law to happen for this then its a loooong wait. 

    On this ANOUK’s ad – I am not a fan of this. It has showed a privileged segment which can take this stance. I as usual would like to see the side which focuses on whats happening with the masses. How many women pregnant or non pregnant can actually afford to take this stance? I mean, look at the office size and the entrance and the lavish interior that they showed in those few secs. In today’s time it is so freaking expensive to rent an office space, forget building your own. While I recognize and appreciate that such brands are talking about these issues, I wish they would focus on the problems of the masses. For me, this ad didn’t do anything. However, I look forward to your post on such tvcs. 🙂 

  4. Profile photo of Pallavi Pareek

    Thanks Amod. I will surely check out the app. 🙂 Perhaps we should connect and see how to work together towards the same cause? 

  5. Profile photo of Amod Gokhale

    sound’s good. Please connect with Latika ( latika@rachittechnology.com )

  6. Profile photo of Dhiren

    Hi

    Thanks for the info. I have a query

    1) For which type of company is this law applicable? Pvt, LLP, Prop, Part etc

    2) Which industry is it applicable for?

    Thanks

  7. Profile photo of Pallavi Pareek

    Hi Dhiren, 

    It is applicable to all. 

    It is applicable to all. 

    🙂 no industry, no setup, no industry is exempted. 

  8. Profile photo of Alok Rodinhood Kejriwal

    So, this is a true story:

    Almost a year ago, we employed a person (man) in one of the 2win companies. 

    Within a month of joining, he had started ‘harassing’ the women in our office by sending them messages and making them feel very uncomfortable. While the messages were not ‘lewd’, they were offensive and intimidating.

    The moment the matter was escalated to me, I called the man into the conference room and confronted him. He kept quiet and had no defence.

    We have instituted a Vishakha Committee in 2win and they stepped in to investigate. A few more women came forward with the same story.

    I fired that person on the spot and forbade him to return to his desk. His belongings were given to him and he was asked to leave the office. I also mentioned that the ‘investigation’ was still on and we would file a police complaint if required.

    The next morning I sent a note to my team and asked if anyone of them had an issue. A couple of more girls came forward.

    Now comes the shocker:

    This man mailed ALL THE 2WIN employees saying that “Alok was harassing him and that he was contemplating suicide and would name me in a letter as the person responsible”. 

    As as you would have guesses, he became unreachable post that message.

    The next 96 hours WERE HELL for me. While we filed a police complaint (and the police assured me that there was nothing wrong with my actions as long as there was a cause for the firing), I cannot tell you how defeated I felt by this strange act of blackmail. I mean what was a CEO supposed to do? (I even filed a Facebook suicide alert!!)

    5 days later Mr. Suicide Bomber (as we call him in the office now) began posting pictures of Birds and Trees on Facebook and we knew he was as fine as anyone can be.

    But this is the other side of what happens…

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