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! 🙂