Understanding Sexual Harassment Act in Virtual Workplace Context

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COVID-19 is not only attacking our body but also affecting our work life.

COVID-19 is not only attacking our body but also affecting our work life. The current lockdown is potentially blurring of the lines between the home and the workplace — veiling an essential element of professional and safe workplaces and leading to newer dimensions around workplace harassment.

We will look into how POSH, The Prohibition of Sexual Harassment Act 2013, covers both the organized and un-organized sectors. Also, how it includes any work-related offsite, office party, get-togethers, social media groups or in-fact any place that comes under the ambit of a work-related relationship.

What Makes The Definition Of Sexual Harassment Act Complex?

The given definition has broad, undefined boundaries. Therefore, it is worth thinking about how this Act becomes applicable in the virtual world of video conferencing. Gartner Data tells us that by 2030, the demand for remote work will increase by 30 per cent, when "Gen Z" enters the workplace. 

However, employers should be aware of this extension of the workplace. They must take all steps to ensure that the parallel virtual workplace remains as safe and free of intended or unintended harassment.

Memes and jokes about work-from-home attire are floating on social media daily. Still, one must continuously recapitulate that professional etiquette rules apply, irrespective of whether a meeting is in a physical space or via a virtual medium. 

Understanding the Workplace Code of Conduct

While employees may be physically at home, they continue to operate in a "workplace" - employees dress codes still need to be maintained. Companies must drill home the basics as part of their code of conduct — employees on video conferences must not dress in vests or undergarments, or tees with suggestive phrases on them. For instance, during a virtual meeting, participants sharing a poster on the wall with provocative content can cause considerable discomfort to others.

Employees sitting in the comfort of their living room or spare bedroom, it becomes easy for them to "switch off" and forget basic workplace norms. 

These are some of the examples that reiterate the key message of the (POSH) Sexual Harassment Act — Harassment is any conduct that is unwelcome or sexual, can be a subjective experience or an intention matter.

Redress Mechanism

Lastly, companies should remember to maintain a functioning complaint and redress mechanism while conducting virtual meetings with Internal Complaints Committees.

It is essential to be ensured of employees’ swift action if they complain of harassment.

The Sexual Harassment Act has long been seen as a proactive tool to safeguard a woman's right to dignity and work. With the dramatic shift in workplace dynamics, companies have to be more proactive in acknowledging the transformative ways of workplace that they did not contemplate even six months ago. They should continuously refresh their frameworks for workplace safety.

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