Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Policy

Document Notice

Document Title:

Prevention of Sexual Harassment Policy

Date of Release:

01st April 2020

Owner(s):

Axelerant Technologies Pvt Ltd, People Operations team, ICC

Prepared by:

G. Gayatri Rao - Legal Consultant

Reviewed by:

  • Parth Gohil – People Operations Manager  

  • Yashashree Bedekar – People Operations Associate

  • Michael Cannon - Chief Success Officer

Purpose:

For the proceedings of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)

Reference:

Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace from Government of India Ministry of Women and Child Development

1.0 Background

Axelerant Technologies Private Limited (referred to as the "Company") is committed to providing an equal opportunity and harassment-free workplace notwithstanding race, caste, religion, color, ancestry, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, ethnic origin, or disability, as the case may be. Thus to create such a safe and conducive work environment, this Policy has been framed in line with the provisions of the "Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013" of India (referred to as the "Act" 1) and existing rules framed thereunder namely the "Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013 (referred to as the "Rules" 2).

It is important to note that the Act provides a civil remedy to women and is in addition to other laws currently in force. Consequently, any woman who wishes to report instances of sexual harassment at the workplace has the right to take recourse to both civil and criminal proceedings.

2.0 Purpose & Scope

This policy is a sub-section of the existing Safe Space Policy, and it does not replace the existing policy.  This policy gives a more elaborate and descriptive view of the Protection of team members from Sexual Harassment who are engaged with our company.

The purpose of this policy is to protect against sexual harassment of team members (irrespective of their gender) at the workplace and the prevention and redressal complaints of sexual harassment and matters related to it.

This policy extends to all team members, including individuals coming to the workplace for employment or any other purpose whatsoever, including but not limited to visitors, vendors, contractual resources, secondees, and applies to any alleged act of sexual harassment against persons at the workplace, whether the incident has occurred during or beyond office hours.

This policy does not prevent an aggrieved person from taking recourse to the law of the land.

3.0 Important definitions

"Aggrieved Individual" means in the workplace, a person of any age, whether employed or not, who alleges to have been subject to any act of sexual harassment by the respondent and includes contractual, temporary team members and visitors.

  1. "Complainant" is any aggrieved individual (including a representative as more fully described under Rule 6 of the said Rules, if the aggrieved individual is unable to make a complaint on account of their physical or mental incapacity or death or otherwise) who makes a complaint alleging Sexual Harassment under this Policy.

  2. "Team Member" as defined under the Act and means a person employed with the Company for any work on a permanent, temporary, part-time, ad-hoc or daily wage basis, either directly or through an agent, including a contractor, who with or without the knowledge of the Principal employer, whether for remuneration or not, or working voluntarily or otherwise, whether the terms of employment are expressed or implied and includes a co-worker, a contract worker, probationer, trainee, apprentice or called by any other such name.

  3. "Employer" means a person who is responsible for management, supervision, and control of the workplace, including appointment/removal/termination of team members and, will include Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or another executive representative (CXO).

  4. "Internal Committee" means and includes an Internal Complaints Committee (referred to as the "ICC").

  5. "Member" means a member of the ICC.

  6. "Presiding officer" means the ICC's presiding officer and shall be a woman employed at a senior level at the workplace amongst the team members.

  7. 'Respondent" means a person against whom a complaint of alleged sexual harassment has been made under this policy.

  8.  "Parties" means the complainant and the respondent collectively.

  9. "Sexual Harassment" includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behavior (whether directly or by implication):

    1. Any unwanted sexually determined action or pattern of conduct that would cause discomfort or humiliate a person

      1. Making sexually colored remarks or remarks of  sexual nature about a person's clothing or body;

      2. Showing pornography;

      3. Any other unwelcome physical, visual, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature, including but not limited to cat-call, wolf/finger whistle, vulgar/lewd jokes, letters, phone calls, text messages, e-mails, gestures, etc.

    2. Sexual harassment can involve a series of incidents, or it can be a one-off occurrence.

      1. The following circumstances, among other things, if it occurs or is presently connected with any act or behavior of sexual harassment may amount to sexual harassment:-

      2. Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in employment; or

      3. The implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in employment; or

      4. The implied or explicit threat about the present or future employment status; or

      5. Interference with work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for the person; or

      6. Humiliating treatment affecting any person's health or safety.

  10. "Workplace" means establishments, enterprises, institutions, offices, branches, premises, locations or units established, owned, controlled by the Company or places visited by the team members out of or during employment, including accommodation and transportation provided by the employer undertaking such a journey.

3.1 What is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

"Sexual Harassment" includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behavior (whether directly or by implication), namely:

  1. Physical contact or advances;

  2. Commenting/making gestures through electronic communication;

  3. A demand or request for sexual favors;

  4. Making sexually colored remarks;

  5. Showing pornography;

  6. Any other unwelcome physical/online, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature

To prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, it is critical to recognize and differentiate between welcome and unwelcome sexual behavior. Listed are some examples of how "unwelcome" and "welcome" behavior is experienced. WELCOME WELCOME

UNWELCOME

WELCOME

UNWELCOME

WELCOME

Feels bad                                                       

One-sided                                                   

Feels powerless                                          

Power-based                                                    

Unwanted                                                        

Illegal                                                               

Invading                                                            

Demeaning                                              

Causes anger/sadness                             

Causes negative self-esteem 

Feels good

Reciprocal

In-control

Equality

Wanted

Legal

Open

Appreciative

Happy

Positive self-esteem

3.3 Scenarios

When this particular law was first enacted, lawmakers could not have envisioned the various methods of electronic communication being used today; from email and texting/webinar/Zoom calls to Facebook and Twitter for carrying out the business operations of the company, people now have countless ways of staying in contact both during and outside of work.

Thus, in the view of work from anywhere companies such as our Company, any action or gesture made through meetings/webinars against any team member is also considered as Sexual Harassment as per the Act, and they are liable under this Act.

The following scenario has been constructed as an example based on women's real-life experiences at the workplace working remotely. The following example's names are fictional and in no way refer to any individual alive or dead.

  1. SCENARIO EXAMPLE 
    Alice* was freelance writing for an up-and-coming podcast network on a loose agreement as a remote team member in 2014. They tell broadly that everything was going fine at first, but then a host of a long-running podcast at the same company crossed the line with them on Twitter. Alice had responded to one of the podcast host's tweets about sports, which quickly escalated to sexual innuendo. Alice replied with a cruel joke to point out how inappropriate the conversation had turned, but the host continued to make sexual advances.

    Alice says that over the next few months, the host sent sexually inappropriate direct messages via Twitter. "They were never as forward as they were that night [the harassment started]," Alice says, "but it was clear to me that they were using my interest in the show as a way to foster some private closeness between us, which, given what they had said, made me uncomfortable."

    On Alice's twenty-second birthday, they messaged them out of the blue about how they wanted to push me up against a wall and used some sexual remarks. Alice says they stayed silent about what had happened—apart from consulting with their husband—for fear of losing their job. "I was terrified that if I tried to do something in response to [the harassment] that my show would be dropped from the network, effectively killing off most of our listenership," they said. "I was also afraid of being alienated by the owner."

    Alice has been sexually harassed in the above scenario, and of course, harassment over social media/making uncomfortable remarks through an electronic medium is far from uncommon. Still, when it's a co-worker doing the trolling, it constitutes a form of Sexual Harassment.

4.0 Procedures & Guidelines

4.1 Composition of the Internal Complaints Committee

According to the Act's relevant provisions, an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) has been constituted to prevent sexual harassment and to receive and effectively deal with complaints of the same. Below is the list of members of the ICC:

Name

Designation

Contact Information

Hetal Mistry

Presiding Officer

hetal@axelerant.com

Hussain Abbas

Member 

hussain@axelerant.com

Renuka Sheshadri

External Member

renukasheshadri@yahoo.com

George Rodrigues

Member 

george.rodrigues@axelerant.com

Trupti Sawant

Member

trupti@axelerant.com

Vivek Agarwal

Member

vivek@axelerant.com

Sujatha Varadharajan

Member

sujatha.varadharajan@axelerant.com

The employer's executive and leadership team will not form a part of the ICC. The ICC may consult the CEO/CXO from time to time. Such consultation is purely discretionary.

4.1.1 Term of ICC

  1. The Presiding Officer

4.2 Complaint of Sexual Harassment

4.2.1 Raising of complaint

  1. Any aggrieved individual may make in writing an allegation of sexual harassment within three (3) months from the date of the incident and in case of more than one incident, within three (3) months from the time of the last incident. Whether to consider it or not, the ICC will review complaints arising from incidents more than three (3) months old.

  2. However, the ICC may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, extend such time limit of filing complaint up to further three (3) months if it is satisfied that bonafide circumstances prevented the aggrieved individual from filing a complaint within the time limit mentioned in point (1) hereinabove. The complaint should indicate the name and available details of both the aggrieved person and the respondent. Anonymous or pseudonymous complaints will not be investigated.

  3. The People Operations representative will officially forward the complaint to the Presiding Officer of ICC within fourteen (14) days from the date of making a claim.

4.2.2 Filing of Sexual Harassment Complaint

Section 9 of the POSH Act gives details on filing a complaint of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace. Excerpts from Section 9 of the Act:

"Any team member who faces sexual harassment at the workplace can complain to the Internal Complaints Committee within three (3) months from the date of the incident and in case of a series of incidents within three (3) months from the date of the last incident."

  • In case the team member cannot give the complaint in writing, the Presiding officer or any member of the Internal Complaints Committee shall render all reasonable assistance to the team member for making the complaint in writing.

  • In case the team member cannot make a complaint on account of their physical or mental incapacity or death or otherwise, their legal heir or any such person as may be prescribed may make a complaint.

  • In case of physical incapacity (e.g., physically hurt and unable to file a written complaint), a complaint may be submitted by -

a. Their friend or relative or

b. Their co-worker, or

c. Any person who knows about the incident, with the written consent of the aggrieved individual.

  • In case of mental incapacity (e.g., psychological trauma/distress or pre-existing mental illness, etc.) and is unable to file a written complaint, a complaint may be submitted by –

a. Their relative or friend; or

b. a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist; or

c. the guardian or authority under whose care they are receiving treatment or care; or

d. any person who knows about the incident jointly with their friend/ relative/psychologist/psychiatrist or authority under whose supervision they are receiving treatment

  • In the case where the aggrieved individual is dead, a complaint may be filed by any person who knows about the incident, with the written consent of their legal heir

4.2.3 Submitting the Sexual Harassment Complaint

All information provided by the Aggrieved Individual and Complainant will be kept confidential to the relevant Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) members.

The complainant shall submit the complaint accompanied by available supporting documents and relevant details concerning the alleged act of sexual harassment(s), including names and addresses of witnesses, if any, which the complainant believes to be true and accurate.

4.3 Redressal Process

4.3.1 Conciliation

Before the ICC initiates an inquiry, the complainant may request the ICC to take steps to resolve the matter through conciliation, provided no monetary settlement shall be made as per the basis of mediation. When an agreement has so arrived, the ICC shall record the same and forward the same to the Employer and provide copies of the settlement to the aggrieved individual and the respondent. In such cases, no further inquiry shall be conducted by the ICC.

4.3.2 Inquiry

  1. If a settlement is not feasible or could not be arrived at through conciliation (ref clause 4.3.1 above), the ICC will inquire into the complaint. Additionally, an investigation may also be initiated if the aggrieved person informs the ICC that any terms of settlement (ref clause 4.3.1 above) have not been complied with by the respondent.

  2. Within 7 (seven) working days of receiving the complaint, the ICC shall forward one copy to the respondent to obtain a response.

  3. Within 10 (ten) working days of receiving the complaint, the respondent shall file their reply to the complaint along with a list of supporting documents, names, and addresses of witnesses.

  4. The ICC shall consider the reply from the respondent and initiate an inquiry. The complainant or the respondent to the complaint shall not be allowed to bring any legal practitioner to represent them at any stage of the proceedings before the ICC. ICC shall hear both the complainant and the respondent on a date(s) intimated to them in advance, and the principles of natural justice will be followed accordingly.

  5. In the event of failure to attend a personal hearing before ICC by the complainant or the respondent on three (3) consecutive dates (intimated in advance), the ICC shall terminate the inquiry proceedings or give an ex-parte decision. However, the ICC shall serve a notice in writing to the party(ies), 15 (fifteen) days in advance, before such termination or the ex-parte order.

  6. The inquiry process shall be completed maximum within 90 (ninety) days from the date of receipt of the complaint.

  7. Within 10 (ten) days from the date of completion of the inquiry, the ICC shall provide a report of its findings to the CXO, and such announcement shall also be immediately made available to the complainant and respondent.

  8. Where the conduct of Sexual Harassment amounts to a specific offense under the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) or under any other law; it shall be the duty of ICC to immediately inform the complainant of their right to initiate action per the law with the appropriate authority, and to give advice and guidance regarding the same. Any such action or proceedings initiated shall be in addition to proceedings initiated or any action taken under this Policy.

4.3.3 Interim relief

During the pendency of the inquiry, on a written request made by the complainant, the committee may recommend to the employer to:

  • Transfer the aggrieved individual or the respondent to any other workplace; or

  • Grant leave to the aggrieved individual of a maximum of three (3) months, in addition to the leave they would be otherwise entitled; or

  • Grant such other relief to the aggrieved individual as may found to be appropriate; or

  • Restrain the respondent from reporting on the work performance of the complainant.

Once the recommendations of interim relief are implemented, CPO shall inform the committee regarding the same.

4.3.4 Prohibition on disclosure of information

This policy and the law prohibits any person including ICC Members from publishing, communicating, or making known to the public, press, and media in any manner, contents of the complaint, the identity, and addresses of the aggrieved person, respondent, and witnesses, any information relating to conciliation and inquiry proceedings, or recommendations of the ICC during the proceedings under the provisions of the Act. Any violation of it shall also be subject to applicable Disciplinary Actions as outlined in the Safe Space Policy. Further CEO/CXO  shall impose monetary sanctions as per provisions of the Act and Rules.

4.3.5 Protection to Complainant

The Company is committed to ensuring that no team member who brings forward a harassment concern is subject to any form of reprisal. Any reprisal will be subject to disciplinary action. The Company will ensure that the victim or witnesses are not victimized or discriminated against while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.

However, anyone who abuses the procedure (for example, by maliciously putting an allegation knowing it to be untrue or produces any forged or misleading document) will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action including possible termination.

4.3.6 Appeal

Any person aggrieved by ICC’s recommendation may prefer an appeal under the relevant provisions of the Act and Rules.

4.3.7 Disciplinary Proceedings

According to the CEO/CXO’s written recommendation, based on ICC findings, and subject to the outcome of the appeal proceedings, when any, (ref. clause 4.3.6 above) necessary disciplinary actions may be initiated against the respondent in terms of the applicable provisions of Company handbook.

4.3.8 Savings and Repeal

Prevention of Sexual Harassment Policy has been enforced on 1st April 2020. All current inquiry proceedings or appeals initiated before the enforcement date of this policy will be deemed to have been made under this Policy, and the same shall continue accordingly.