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Navigating the Quagmire: Unravelling the Misusage of the POSH Act

Abstract:-

This article highlights the background of the POSH act and also highlights the misusage of the act against innocent men. There are various cases where the act was misused by the applicants for their satisfaction or gains. The Vishaka guidelines were issued by the Hon’ble Court to  protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace but it was widely misused by female applicants against their colleagues or seniors. Even this shows how the legislature failed to form proper legislation like POSH and it took more than 12 years for legislative implementation of the Vishaka Guidelines. The guidelines were given by the court in 1997 but the act called Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act)  came in 2013 15 years after the judgement. This act was highly criticised at the time due to its gender-belligerent approach. Even there was no amendment made in this act till now (2023). 


Introduction:- 

The famous Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, 2013 came for the prevention,  prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment in the workplace. The background for this case was started from the famous Vishaka V. State of Rajasthan, 1997 case where Banwari Devi worked to prevent child marriage. Where she stopped a child marriage taking place in an influential Gujjar family. In the fire to take revenge one Ramakant Gujjar with five of his men brutally gang-raped her and even she faced various problems while registering her complaint.  But she did not get the justice. The trial court acquitted the accused citing lack of evidence. 


This inspired several women’s groups and non-governmental organizations to file a petition in  the Supreme Court under the collective platform of Vishaka2 where the Supreme Court of India  gave the guidelines to protect the interests of working women. Later the POSH Act was passed by the legislature in 2013 to give strong back to the guidelines. No doubt this act played an  important role in empowering women and providing a safe workplace. But somewhere this act  was widely misused by the female employees for their gains. There are several reasons due to

 

1. AIR 1997 SC 3011 

2. A brief history of the battle against sexual harassment at the workplace By Vibhuti Patel was retrieved on 3rd  December 2023 at 03:05 PM.



  1. Which malicious complaints are filed by female employees in the corporate sector? There are  various reasons for the rise of malicious complaints like 

Complaints to take revenge,  

Complaint to harm the goodwill of the firm, 

Complaint to gain some monetary benefits, 

Complaint to blackmail the senior executives to get promotions or other perks, etc. 


These were the prominent reasons for the rise of malicious complaints under POSH. There are some provisions to regulate malicious complaints under POSH. Sec.14 of the act penalises the malicious complaints and the punishment will be given as per rule 9 of the service rules, which  includes a written apology, warning, reprimand or censure, withholding of promotion,  withholding of pay rise or increments, termination from service, undergoing a counselling session, or carrying out community service. 

In Anita Suresh Vs Union of India and Others, the Delhi High 3Court dismissed the writ petition  filed by Anita Suresh and passed the order to pay the fine of 50,000 for filing a false complaint  and misusing the provisions of the POSH Act. 


In Union of India Vs. Reema Srinivasan Iyengar4, the Hon’ble High Court of Madaras observed  that 'Though the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 was created to provide  women equal standing in the workplace and to create a welcoming environment where their  dignity and self-esteem are protected, it cannot be allowed to be abused by women to harass  someone with exaggerated or non-existent allegations.' 


Problems and Issues Arising:- 

There were various problems before the enactment of the law but even after its enactment in  2013, there were various issues that were restraining the proper implementation of the act. The  main issue was that the objective of the act was not fully fulfilled. The act was misused by the  applicants for their benefit, revenge or to gain some monetary amount etc. 


There were various cases where the complaints were malicious and caused mental disturbance  to the defendant. The main aim of this act was to create a safe workplace environment for  

3 P © 5114/2015. 

4 OA 340/2017


2. Women and protect them from sexual harassment at the workplace. It was misused by them in  various ways:- 


False Accusations:- The rise of false accusations keeps increasing in the corporate  sector while most of the claims came as malicious complaints with different intentions.  False charges of sexual harassment can be made by people for a variety of reasons,  including settling personal scores, gaining the upper hand in a conflict at work, or  damaging someone's reputation. 


Retaliation or Revenge:- Sometimes employees falsely complain about the harassment  at the workplace in retaliation for the action taken against them by the senior. Most of the time when seniors take action on complaints against employees they sometimes  make false accusations in revenge from the senior. 


Extortion:- Sometimes employees file false or malicious complaints to extort some  amount of money. This is also a common type of misuse of the POSH act by female  employees against their colleagues.  


Manipulating the Process or Decisions:- Female employees see the POSH act as a  weapon against other male colleagues to manipulate them and their decisions so it will  help them to grow faster in their career by manipulating the decisions of the seniors or by gaining sympathy after filing the false sexual harassment cases. 


The rise of false or malicious complaints is a very worrying situation as it will destroy the  actual objective of the POSH act and also create a more unsafe environment for the male  employees of a firm. This act has been criticised for being a gender-biased act that is destroying  the lives of innocent male employees. Now we will talk about some suggestions to counter the  misusage of this act:- 


Suggestions:- 

The misusage of this act is a big topic of concern here are some suggestions which may help  to reduce this misusage:- 


Firstly, if any female employee makes any accusations on any of the employees. The  accusations need to be secret so the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) will conduct  a secret investigation of that incident. If the accusations are actual then ICC can make it public and take proper actions as per the provisions. It will help to prevent the  defamation of male employees over false accusations and also not let them get extorted  over some false complaints.


Education and Awareness are very important for the employees to stop the misusage of  this act, male and female. Females need to learn about the consequences of false  allegations and males also have to learn how to provide a safe workplace and tackle the false allegations against them without getting extorted or a victim of blackmailing. 


Promotion of a positive work culture environment is also necessary so that female  employees do not feel unsafe at the workplace. It will help to not create any unsafe  feelings in the female employees. 


Counselling or legal consultation must be provided before making a formal complaint  and a pre-formal complaint investigation also needs to be organised. 

Background or Character checks of the employees are necessary to stop the misusage  of the POSH as well as to create a safer workplace environment. 


Review and regular audit of the POSH Act implementation are necessary to identify  any signs or patterns of misusage. 


Conclusion:- 

To summarize, preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is critical, and the Prevention of  Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act provides a critical legal foundation for addressing and  correcting incidents of wrongdoing. However, as with every legislation, there is a risk of misapplication, turning a well-intended safeguard into a possible quagmire. Organizations must  execute a diverse plan to properly navigate this challenging terrain. 


Increasing awareness through education, developing an open communication culture, and providing clear regulations and procedures are all critical measures in reducing misuse.  Anonymity provisions should be paired with accountability precautions, and the inquiry process should retain objectivity and fairness for all parties involved. 

Organizations can create an atmosphere where misuse of the POSH Act is less likely by promoting a healthy workplace culture that values diversity, inclusivity, and dispute resolution.  Frequent reviews, employee assistance programs, and strengthening the organization's  defences against the hazards of misapplication. 

In short, navigating the quagmire of POSH Act misapplication demands a proactive and holistic  approach. Striking a balance between protecting all individuals' rights and preventing malicious  intent ensures that the spirit of the legislation prevails in fostering workplaces that are not only  legally compliant but also equitable, respectful, and conducive to the well-being of all  employees.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):- 


1. What are the penalties for failing to comply with the POSH Act? 

Ans. Non-compliance with the POSH Act may result in consequences such as fines and the  termination of business licenses. Employers who fail to set up an ICC or do not follow the  committee's recommendations may face legal implications. 


2. Can men file complaints under the POSH Act?

Ans. While the POSH Act's major focus is on preventing and resolving sexual harassment  against women, it also acknowledges that men can be victims. Men who have been  subjected to sexual harassment may register complaints under the Act. 


3. Is there a time limit for filing a complaint under the POSH Act? 

Ans. The POSH Act recommends complaints be filed as soon as possible, and it is advised  that complaints be filed within three months of the incident. However, the Act provides for  subsequent filing of complaints, and the ICC has the authority to extend the time restriction. 


4. Can a complaint be filed externally if the internal process is not satisfactory? 

Ans. Yes, if an employee is dissatisfied with the internal investigation or if the employer  fails to implement the ICC's recommendations, the employee has the right to submit a  complaint to the local authorities or the District Officer. 


5. Is there any provision for confidentiality in the POSH Act? 

Ans. The POSH Act requires that the identities of the complainant, the accused, and the  witnesses be kept private. The Act highlights the importance of conducting a careful  investigation to respect the privacy of persons affected.



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