Introduction – What is Third Party Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment in connection with the workplace, isn’t only limited to the workplace (as a premises) or one’s colleagues (as the respondent). It extends to third party workplaces, and third party individuals like consultants, independent contractors, clients, or other non-employees associated with the workplace, irrespective of the premises where the sexual harassment may have occurred.
Employers need to provide employees with a safe working environment where their safety and security is prioritised, especially if third parties are involved.
IC’s Jurisdiction and When It Can Refuse
Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act), women can file complaints on acts that took place at the workplace even against third parties, irrespective of whether they work at their place of employment.
In line with the PoSH Act, the employer is responsible for taking necessary steps, and reasonably assisting the aggrieved and affected parties, in the event of occurrence of third-party sexual harassment.
In such a case, the onus is on the aggrieved to decide whether the matter should be investigated by the organisation’s Internal Committee (IC) or whether it should be referred to the police. The aggrieved also has a choice to pursue both parallelly. Therefore, the IC does have jurisdiction to preside over matters at the workplace, and at workplace-sponsored events.
If the third party is from a different organisation, the IC may forward the complaint to the IC of the respondent’s organisation or do a joint investigation.
Training Internal Committee on Understanding Jurisdiction & Compliance with POSH Policy
Sexual harassment, especially when perpetrated by a third party, may arise anywhere and in any situation.
The IC of each organisation need to be trained to deliberate not just on matters which clearly fall under the purview of their jurisdiction, but also on how to handle matters where there may be overlapping jurisdiction.
Additionally, the Internal Committee should also know when to refer the aggrieved to the Local Committee/ Local Complaints Committee (LC/LCC). Local committees are formed under the jurisdiction of the District Officer in every district in a state. Their jurisdiction extends to organisations that employ less than 10 employees and cases where the sexual harassment complaint is directly against the employer.
It becomes extremely important for Internal Committees to fully understand and pre-empt the extent of such situations and ensure people are aware of, and comply with, the company’s internal POSH policy. Awareness measures are the most effective tools in ensuring a safe and healthy work culture.
SHLC guides employees to understand third-party sexual harassment and provides IC members continuous training. This allows employees and members to gain a wider perspective on how to deal with cases that fall under the ambit of third-party sexual harassment, and whether or not a matter falls under their jurisdiction.
Know Your POSH
Here’s a quick exercise for you.
Go through your company’s POSH policy. In the table below, based on who the complainant and the respondent are, jot down whether you think the IC should be involved in the case or not
Reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org for the answer key or call us on +91-9625392040.
Note – This article is not a substitute for legal advice or consulting with a lawyer, who will be in a better position to advise you with respect to the facts and circumstances of your case, but merely a tool to help the reader understand better about laws relating to prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.