Friday, November 30, 2012

Day 6 -- HR roundtable discussion on workplace sexual harassment

We held a roundtable discussion earlier today with HR executives from few companies in the IT/ITES sector to share their practices on the management of workplace sexual harassment. The roundtable included Ms. Sheila Jayaprakash, a senior advocate in the Madras High Court.

The roundtable kicked off with introductions of the organizers – Prajnya, FLEXI Careers India, Empowering Women in IT (eWIT). 4 companies gave brief presentations about the policies they had on workplace sexual harassment. Ms. Jayaprakash then gave a broad overview of the Vishaka guidelines and then gave her comments and observations. Here are some of them:
  • When the company has a fixed committee, it would be a standing committee; it need not be all from the company and might include a NGO member. But if all of them can't come, a subset, inquiry committee might go out and have a hearing, but it would have to have the chairman and the NGO member.
  • The committee must draw from across departments, including the shop floor, and not be overloaded with HR people.
  • Wherever the complaint comes from, members from that department must recuse themselves
  • The names of those in the committee cannot be anonymous and must be fully displayed. If the company has a system where employees can send their complaint to a email ID, the employee should be able to know who is part of that group email ID.
  • A standing committee does not screen complaints
  • Complaints cannot be anonymous; they must be registered. The accused must be notified and given time to give a written response to the allegations.
  • Terms of reference must be specific to the incident and the committee should not discuss irrelevant details
  • Parties should be asked if they want a lawyer – in the case of wrongful termination suits, ex-employees usually note in their case that the company denied them legal counsel.
  • Parties can bring witness to the hearing; the committee does not investigate.
Ms Jayaprakash said, “your policy does not instill confidence, its how you handle it.”

This was followed by a Q&A session. One of the concerns was privacy/security issues with having an outsider in the committee. Ms Jayaprakash noted that these hearings are not about corporate secrets, its about relationships.

It was a very insightful session, commented one HR executive.

To learn about the Vishaka judgement:
For a summary of the Vishaka guidelines.
See also our previous post Campaign Chronicle: The Indian working woman and the Law for a brief summary of the Vishaka case, judgement and guidelines 

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