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Steps to Establish an Effective Internal Complaints Committee under the POSH Act

Introduction

In today's world, an organisations' main responsibility is to provide a safe and inclusive work environment. In response to the growing concern over workplace harassment, numerous countries have created rules and regulations to provide a framework for avoiding and responding to such instances. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, 2013[1], is one such important piece of law in India.

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, introduced in 2013 in India, is a landmark legislation that aims to create a safe and inclusive work environment for all employees. One of the key provisions of the POSH Act is the establishment of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) within organizations[2]. The ICC plays a crucial role in addressing and preventing incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. In this study, we will delve into the steps required to establish an effective ICC under the POSH Act and understand its significance.


The POSH Act's Definition and Importance

The purpose of the POSH Act is to prevent and protect employees, particularly women, from sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted act, behaviour, or conduct, whether verbal, nonverbal, or violent, that violates a person's dignity and creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive atmosphere. The statute applies to employees, contract workers, interns, and even consumers or clients visiting the company, and it includes both organised and unorganised sectors.

The POSH Act's relevance stems from its ability to develop a secure and dignified working environment that promotes productivity, morale, and employee well-being. Organisations demonstrate their commitment to fostering equality, eliminating harassment, and upholding human rights in the workplace by assuring compliance with the terms of the act. Compliance with the POSH Act not only protects employees from harassment, but also assists organisations in mitigating legal risks, protecting their reputation, and developing a great employer brand.


The Importance of Creating a Compliance Committee (ICC)

The POSH Act requires the establishment of a Compliance Committee, often known as an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)[3]. The ICC is critical to an organization's effective implementation of the act. The ICC's principal goal is to provide a fair, unbiased, and confidential platform for reviewing workplace sexual harassment accusations.

Organisations that establish an ICC demonstrate their commitment to fostering a safe and inclusive work environment while also ensuring compliance with the legislative duties contained in the POSH Act. The ICC serves as a proactive tool to prevent and manage occurrences of sexual harassment, to protect employees' rights and well-being, and to foster a culture of respect.

It establishes a mechanism to ensure that complaints are taken seriously, investigated impartially, and addressed in a timely way. Furthermore, the ICC serves as an employee support system, providing them with the required guidance, support, and redressal processes.

Finally, the POSH Act and the formation of a Compliance Committee (ICC) are critical components in fostering safe and harassment-free workplaces. Organisations can protect their employees' rights, foster a culture of respect and dignity, and uphold their legal and ethical duties by complying to the principles of the act and implementing an effective ICC.


The POSH Act and the Compliance Committee (ICC)

Synopsis of the POSH Act

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, passed in 2013, is a historic piece of legislation in India that addresses the issue of workplace sexual harassment. The act recognises every individual's fundamental right to work in a harassment-free workplace and attempts to secure the adoption of preventive and redressal processes inside organisations.

The POSH Act requires that each organisation with ten or more members to establish an Internal allegations Committee (ICC) to efficiently handle sexual harassment allegations. The statute defines the roles of employers, employees, and the ICC, establishing a comprehensive framework for workplace harassment prevention, prohibition, and redressal.


Compliance Committee's Role and Responsibilities

The Compliance Committee, also known as the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), is critical to enforcing the POSH Act's stipulations. The ICC is in charge of creating a safe and welcoming work environment in which employees can report occurrences of sexual harassment without fear of retaliation or victimisation[4].

The ICC's primary responsibilities include:

  • Processing and Receiving allegations: The ICC is responsible for processing sexual harassment allegations, protecting complainants' anonymity, and commencing a timely and impartial inquiry process.

  • Conducting Investigations: The ICC conducts thorough investigations into complaints submitted, ensuring that all parties concerned have a chance to be heard. Throughout the investigation, the committee gathers evidence, examines witnesses, and maintains a fair and transparent approach.

  • Recommending Actions: Following the completion of the inquiry, the ICC makes recommendations based on the findings. This may involve taking disciplinary action against the harasser, implementing preventive measures, or offering assistance to the victim.

  • Compliance and reporting: The ICC guarantees that the POSH Act is followed by the organisation. It keeps track of complaints and measures taken, and it sends out quarterly reports to management and other relevant authorities.

  • Awareness and Training: The ICC is critical in raising awareness about sexual harassment, educating employees about their rights and obligations, and organising workplace harassment prevention training programmes.

The Advantages of Having a Strong ICC

Creating a strong Compliance Committee (ICC) has various advantages for both employees and organisations. Among the many advantages are:

  • Employee Confidence and trust: A strong ICC gives employees trust that their complaints will be treated seriously and dealt fairly. This develops a trusting atmosphere, making employees feel protected and supported within the organisation.

  • Legal Compliance: Organisations accomplish their legal obligations under the POSH Act by creating an ICC. Compliance not only protects the organisation from legal ramifications, but it also reflects the organization's commitment to a harassment-free workplace.

  • Prevention and Early Intervention: The ICC takes a proactive approach to reducing sexual harassment events by raising awareness, enacting policies, and providing frequent training. The ICC assists in preventing the escalation of harassment cases by recognising and addressing issues at an early stage.

  • Improved Reputation: Organisations that prioritise the formation of a strong ICC and efficiently resolve sexual harassment issues get a positive reputation as responsible and employee-centric enterprises. As a result, it is easier to attract and retain great people, as well as acquire the trust of clients and stakeholders.

  • Employee Productivity Improvement: A strong ICC promotes employees' general well-being by offering a helpful forum for them to voice their issues. It contributes to the creation of a harassment-free workplace by increasing productivity, job satisfaction, and mental and emotional well-being.

To summarise, organisations seeking to build a safe and inclusive work environment must first comprehend the POSH Act and the responsibility of a Compliance Committee (ICC).


Formation of an ICC

Defining the ICC's Composition and Structure

The POSH Act requires careful consideration of the makeup and organisation of a Compliance Committee (ICC). This phase lays the groundwork for an effective and efficient committee that can address workplace sexual harassment accusations.


Determining the Number of Required Members

The initial objective is to ascertain the ICC's composition. The POSH Act stipulates the needed minimum number of members, which includes[5]:

  • Presiding Officer: A senior-level organisational employee with experience dealing with gender-related issues or legal understanding

  • At least one External Member: An independent expert or a representative from a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or other organisation dedicated to the cause of sexual harassment prevention.

  • Internal Members: Not less than two employees at various levels and departments who are knowledgeable about and sensitive to the issue.

It is critical to ensure that the ICC is diverse in order to represent different genders, departments, and levels within the organisation. This diversity contributes to the inclusion of diverse perspectives and ensures a fair and unbiased approach to processing complaints.


Appointing a Chairperson

The next stage is to choose an ICC Chairperson. The Chairperson should be a well-respected and experienced someone who can effectively lead the committee. They should be able to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts, as well as have a full awareness of the POSH Act and the organization's policies and procedures.

The Chairperson's responsibilities include presiding over ICC meetings, organising committee activities, ensuring POSH Act compliance, and maintaining communication with the organization's management and personnel.


Establishing the Reporting Structure

Establishing a clear reporting structure is critical to the ICC's effective operation. It is critical to establish a reporting hierarchy and routes for employees to raise grievances. This includes establishing a specific email address, phone number, or physical dropbox where employees can report occurrences of sexual harassment.

The reporting structure should guarantee anonymity and reassure complainants that their identities will be kept private. It should also clarify the procedure for submitting complaints to the ICC and guarantee that complainants receive acknowledgement of their complaint as well as updates on its status.


Establishing Meeting Frequency

The frequency of ICC meetings must be established to ensure the quick disposal of complaints. The frequency should find a balance between giving the ICC enough time to undertake investigations and ensuring that concerns are addressed as quickly as possible.

The ICC should convene on a regular basis, ideally at predetermined intervals, to discuss ongoing cases, review policies and procedures, and strategize for effective preventive measures execution. It is critical to keep meticulous records of these meetings, including minutes, activities conducted, and decisions reached.

Furthermore, the ICC should be adaptable enough to conduct emergency sessions in the event of an emergency or the need for immediate action.

Organisations can build a solid foundation for properly resolving sexual harassment accusations in the workplace by carefully specifying the ICC's makeup, structure, reporting channels, and meeting frequency. These critical measures lay the groundwork for a fair and effective committee that may strive to create a safe and inclusive workplace environment in accordance with the POSH Act.


Appointing ICC Members

Appointing appropriate members to the Compliance Committee (ICC) is a vital step in assuring its efficacy and credibility in resolving sexual harassment accusations. This stage entails carefully considering a variety of characteristics in order to pick personnel who are capable, knowledgeable, and committed to maintaining the POSH Act's ideals.


Finding Eligible Candidates

The first step is to find qualified candidates for ICC membership. This can be accomplished through a combination of self-nominations, employee or manager suggestions, and consultations with relevant departments or stakeholders.

Employees with a genuine interest in ensuring a safe work environment, strong communication and interpersonal skills, and a reputation for fairness and integrity may be considered for ICC membership.


Ensure Representation and Diversity

The ICC's diversity and representation are critical to ensuring fair and unbiased decision-making. Members of all genders, departments, administrative levels, and backgrounds are required. This variety contributes to the committee's deliberations by bringing diverse opinions to the table and ensuring a balanced approach to handling issues.

The ICC should aim for inclusivity and, if possible, seek representation from marginalised groups to ensure that their views are heard and their concerns are addressed.


Qualifications and Expertise Evaluation

After identifying possible applicants, it is critical to assess their qualifications, competence, and fit for the post. Consider their comprehension of the POSH Act, their understanding of workplace dynamics, their dispute resolution skills, and their capacity to maintain confidentiality.

Prior experience or training in gender problems, sexual harassment prevention, or legal knowledge can help you handle complaints and conduct investigations more successfully.


Sharing Roles and Expectations

Following the selection of ICC members, it is critical to clearly convey their roles, responsibilities, and expectations. This includes alerting them of the POSH Act's legal provisions, the organization's policies and procedures, and the ICC's code of conduct.

Members must understand their responsibilities to protect confidentiality, maintain impartiality, and work in the best interests of all parties involved in the complaint process. Clear communication about the time commitment needed of ICC members, meeting availability, and the need for ongoing training and growth will help create realistic expectations.

Thorough induction process for new members is required, during which they get comprehensive instruction on the POSH Act, the ICC's operation, and applicable processes. This induction procedure assists them in better understanding their tasks and maintains consistency in the committee's approach.


ICC Members' Training and Capacity Building

To ensure the Compliance Committee's (ICC) efficacy in resolving sexual harassment accusations, it is critical to provide extensive training and capacity building opportunities for its members. This stage provides ICC members with the information, abilities, and confidence they need to carry out their responsibilities in line with the POSH Act.


Introduction to the POSH Act and How the ICC Works:

The first step of training should focus on providing ICC members with an overview of the essential provisions of the POSH Act and its implications for the organisation. Understanding the concept of sexual harassment, the obligations of employers and employees, and the legal framework for prevention, prohibition, and redressal are all part of this process.

Furthermore, ICC members should be given a thorough explanation of how the ICC works, including its structure, roles, and responsibilities, as well as the procedure for receiving, investigating, and resolving complaints. This orientation lays the groundwork for ICC members to carry out their responsibilities effectively.


Recognising Each Member's Role:

Members of the ICC should be aware of their specific duties and responsibilities within the committee. Training should be provided to each member to familiarise them with their particular contributions and areas of focus.


Complaint and Investigation Handling Training:

Members of the ICC should receive specialised training in addressing complaints and conducting investigations. This training should include topics such as:

  1. Empathy & Active Listening: Members should be taught in active listening techniques in order to provide a safe and supportive environment for complainants. They should also cultivate empathy in order to comprehend the emotional impact of harassment on victims.

  2. Interviewing and Evidence Collection: To ensure complete and unbiased investigations, ICC members should be trained in interviewing procedures and evidence collection.

  3. Conflict Resolution and Mediation: When possible, ICC members should be prepared with conflict resolution skills to support peaceful resolutions. Mediation training can assist members in investigating alternate dispute resolution options for dealing with grievances.


Opportunities for Continuous Learning and Development

For ICC members, training and capacity building should be a continual activity. Organisations should give regular updates on POSH Act modifications, relevant legal precedents, and best practises for dealing with workplace harassment[6].


Developing ICC Policies and Procedures:

Creating clear and comprehensive policies and processes for the Compliance Committee (ICC) is critical for maintaining a consistent and successful reaction to sexual harassment accusations. These policies and procedures provide direction to ICC members and all workers, describing the processes to be taken while respecting confidentiality and transparency.


Creating a Comprehensive Policy Against Sexual Harassment:

The first stage in implementing ICC policies and procedures is to create a comprehensive Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy. This policy should describe the organization's commitment to fostering a safe and inclusive work environment, define sexual harassment, and communicate the organization's zero-tolerance policy for such behaviour.

The policy should explicitly describe the ICC's functions and responsibilities, the complaint reporting mechanism, and the repercussions of policy violations. It should also include information about the resources accessible to victims of sexual harassment, such as counselling or legal representation.


Creating Policies and Procedures for Receiving and Processing Complaints:

Employees should be given clear procedures for reporting incidences of sexual harassment. Multiple reporting channels, such as a specific email address, a helpline number, or a physical dropbox, should be included in the protocols. The policy should emphasise that complainants have the option of using the channel with which they are most comfortable.


Developing Investigation and Resolution Guidelines

The ICC should have well-defined standards for conducting investigations and resolving complaints. These recommendations should specify the processes to be taken, such as acquiring evidence, interviewing the people involved, and taking witness testimony into account.


Maintaining Process Confidentiality and Transparency:

The complaint resolution procedure requires both confidentiality and transparency. All information relating to complaints and investigations should be treated with the highest confidentially, according to the policies and procedures.

Simultaneously, the policy should stress the significance of transparency in maintaining a fair and accountable process. This involves keeping detailed records of the ICC's complaints, actions, and recommendations. Periodic reports summarising the number of complaints received, their type, and the actions taken should be provided to management and other relevant stakeholders.


Examining and Monitoring Compliance Efforts:

Regular monitoring and review of compliance efforts is required to assess the ICC's effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. Periodic audits, feedback surveys, and data analysis can help discover trends and patterns.


Conclusion

Finally, creating an effective Compliance Committee (ICC) under the POSH Act necessitates careful consideration of a number of steps. Each step in creating a safe and respected work environment is critical, from defining the makeup and structure of the ICC to hiring members, providing training, and developing policies and procedures.

Implementing an effective complaint procedure, as well as monitoring and analysing compliance activities, are ongoing processes that necessitate attention and commitment. Organisations may build a workplace where every person feels protected, appreciated, and empowered by prioritising these activities.


Citations

[1] POSH Act , 2013

[3]What is an Internal Complaints Committee?: ICC Members Training, What is an Internal Complaints Committee?: ICC Members Training, MUDS, Accessed June 7th 2023

[4]Internal Complaints Committee: PoshLaw: PoshAtWork, https://poshatwork.com/internal-complaints-committee/, POSH at Work | Empanelled by MWCD, GOI. Powered by Equilibrio Advisory LLP - Assisting in Building Equitable & Safe Space. Accessed June 7th 2023

[5] Internal Complaints Committee(ICC) - Women: Department Of Science & Technology: Department Of Science & Technology (DST) , https://dst.gov.in/internal-complaints-committeeicc-women , विज्ञान एवं प्रौद्योगिकी विभाग Department of Science & Technology (DST), Accessed June 7th 2023

[6]The PoSH Act, and the procedure for complaint against sexual harassment at the workplace, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-law/posh-act-sexual-harassment-workplace-8591018/, The Indian Express, Accessed June 7th 2023


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