Work from Home in the COVID -19 era and the POSH Act
With the entire world grappling with the COVID – 19 outbreak, offices have been deserted and our cozy couches are the new sufferers of our work woos. With the novel concept of “work from home”, popularly abbreviated as “WFH”, the very essence of “sexual harassment at workplace” has been challenged. Our workplaces are no longer under the surveillance of CCTV cameras with superstructures of the HR and IC always on guard. It’s now a desktop flooding with Zoom calls and Google-Meets, or our cell phone buzzing with follow up mails and texts. This has given room to a lot of sexually red flagged behaviour to surface.
Does POSH cover workplace sexual harassment?
The POSH Act however has always covered work-from-home under its ambit. Section 2(o), POSH Act defines work place as including “any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment” and additionally it includes “a dwelling place or a house”. Hence, even in this new set up, employees continue to be bound by earlier Code of Conduct, Service Rules and provisions of The POSH Act, imposing on them duties to not indulge in sexually harassing conduct towards co-workers or third-parties they interact with through current online meets. Consider, for example, the rise in the number of webinars that are taking place. In one such webinar, if a speaker, hired by a firm for an e-training of its employees, is virtually subjected to sexually harassing material by the audience, it would be covered as work-place sexual harassment.
The best way to avoid and not indulge in such behaviour is to respect the other party’s opinion – consent or refusal. Consent is always easy to understand; it is either always a clear yes or reciprocity from the other side. Then what is not consent? Depending on the situation the other party is in, it may be a clear “NO”. But sometimes the other party might put it in polite terms in order to not come forward as rude, like, not responding, smiling, saying “I’m not comfortable”, “Maybe”, “I changed my mind” etc.
It is very important to not cross the line after such refusal. No response and absence of explicit consent means that there is “NO CONSENT”.
What should I do to prevent cyber workplace sexual harassment?
Work from home requires certain work etiquettes to be re-emphasised such as:
- being mindful of the content that is being shared with colleagues for instance, sharing of inappropriate photos, videos, tagging co-workers on any inappropriate content is a strict no-no;
- ensuring no suggestive emoticons are shared that may give an impression of unwelcoming sexual undertones to the reader(s);
- being mindful of body language during office video calls on different platforms such as zoom, google meets;
- ensuring no inappropriate emails are shared;
- being mindful of conversations on official calls. No personal questions having sexual connotations or private comments between colleagues must be shared;
- ensuring that if a screen share is being done to discuss work, there are no offensive screen savers or content that amounts to sexual harassment;
- ensuring that video calls on different platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet etc. are done in formal settings. POSH complaints are still being filed; however, the incidents are more diverse now. For example, a POSH complaint was filed due to an incident wherein the employee was sitting in his room with a sexually offensive poster visible during the call; and
- you may conduct POSH e-trainings to make your employees understand how sexual harassment may take place in an online set-up and similarly to guide them about impermissible behaviour online.
For any work from home POSH queries, you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org