Monday, May 27, 2013

How many Phaneesh Murthys: NEED TO ENFORCE AWARENESS IN COMPANIES

Sexual harassment at workplace Bill becomes law
India finally enacted its law on prevention of sexual harassment against female employees at the workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 ("Sexual Harassment Act") has been made effective on April 23, 2013 by way of publication in the Gazette of India.

The definition of sexual harassment in the Sexual Harassment Act is in line with the Supreme Court's definition includes any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) such as physical contact and advances, demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, or any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

When we know 90% of rape cases in India goes unreported due to stigma attached to it, it is very difficult for women and others to report cases of sexual harassment in companies, when besides social stigma, job is at stake. Recent case of Ms.Roiz from iGate who reported case of sexual harassment against Phaneesh Murthy, the CEO, sensitivity has been felt in companies all across.

Legal departments of companies must come into play immediately and should create awareness about sexual harassment and awareness of workplace behavior to employees as serious compliance measures.

I believe, companies must have neutral body or portal like ehticspoint.com, where any employee or ex-employee can report such cases anonymously as well.

Challenges are a few as below-
1. How can one report harassment when they are getting promotions and favours for their sexual harassment.
2. How can one complain of sexual harassment when they find the bosses doing the same. The way left out is only taking a legal route and that will be exposing one to public scrutiny, embarrassment  and expenses and this will happen at the cost of losing the job.
3.How can one report such harassment cases when they find their reports at portals like ethicspoint.com go unnoticed. How can they have confidence in management and it's intent.

Companies will have to make legal and intelligence department work pervasively and monitor the behavior at work, when we know 90% cases are not registered.
Do random checks and interview people, interview ex-employees, vendors, ex-vendors, etc to have a preventive mechanism.

Corporate intelligence shall be a part of legal department and they should not wait for cases to come to them. Their role is of creating awareness, giving confidence to people about "zero tolerance" for any cases of sexual and ethical violations. Train people, put posters, lay-down simple rules and procedures for reporting, investigation and action plan, publish rules in public view in company, so that even vendors can see this.
Legal department need to have smart intelligence systems to ensure the violations are tracked. Talk to security, transport departments, cafeteria workers and even house keeping employees and collect information of office behaviors and act smartly and fast.
For God sake, do not leave such intelligence to HR department only. It has to be Legal and compliance department. 

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