Saturday, June 22, 2024

Workplace harassment data reveals corporate sector’s patchy compliance with POSH Act: Report

A decade after India’s groundbreaking Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act mandated strict measures to prevent and address workplace sexual harassment, a new analysis of compliance data raises red flags about lax implementation across the corporate sector. 

The landmark POSH Act of 2013 requires employers to constitute internal complaints committees, conduct awareness training, and disclose annual case statistics – a pioneering move to foster safer work environments for women. According to a report by the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA), which examined data from 300 listed National Stock Exchange (NSE) companies, the number of sexual harassment complaints reported under the POSH Act has risen steadily from 161 in 2013-14 to an alarming 1,160 in 2022-23. However, this steep increase masks an unsettling reality – only 81 of the 300 firms accounted for these recent cases, while a staggering 219 companies reported zero incidents during the same period.

While more cases are being reported annually, their timely resolution has lagged at an alarming rate. In 2021-22, the companies reported 767 harassment cases but resolved only 567. The following year witnessed an even starker gap, with 1,160 reported cases but just 869 resolved, leaving nearly a quarter of complaints pending beyond the mandated 90-day period.

Firm Size a Determinant, but Not Sole Factor

Parsing the data by company size, the CEDA analysis reveals that an overwhelming 98-100% of reported cases each year originated from the largest corporations ranked in the top 100 by market capitalization. Mid-sized companies contributed a mere 1-2% of cases, while smaller firms reported zero incidents – potentially due to having fewer than 10 employees, which exempts them from certain POSH Act provisions.

However, firm size alone cannot fully account for the striking discrepancies. In 2022-23, 27 of the elite top 100 companies shockingly reported zero harassment cases, with 14 of those firms consistently reporting no incidents since the law’s enactment in 2013, raising grave concerns about lacklustre compliance efforts.  

Crucially, the report cautions against interpreting higher reported case numbers solely as indicators of rising incidence. Increased reporting could also signify heightened awareness and more robust redressal mechanisms fostering safer environments for survivors to come forward.  

Conversely, abysmally low or zero reporting is more likely a glaring symptom of poor compliance and lack of accountability measures rather than an outright absence of harassment. As India’s Supreme Court bluntly stated in 2023, unacceptable lapses in POSH Act enforcement persist even a decade after its introduction.

Roadmap for Strengthening Policy Implementation  

Effective POSH Act implementation is pivotal for enabling women’s full workforce participation by safeguarding their rights to dignity and security in professional settings, the authors of the report underscore. Key recommendations include:

– Renewed proactive efforts from companies, regulators and government to prioritize rigorous enforcement of the law’s provisions

– Creation of a centralized, publicly accessible dataset to enable transparency and stringent monitoring of compliance trends  

– Further in-depth research into firm-level constraints impeding comprehensive implementation, with a focus on smaller enterprises

– Potential legislative and regulatory reforms incentivizing robust prevention, reporting and redressal mechanisms across sectors

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