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Prevention of "Sexual Harassment" at the Workplace-Can Training Help?

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Abstract

With the workforce becoming increasingly diverse, a variety of ethical issues crop up at work. One of the biggest challenges is sexual harassment. "Sexual Harassment" is characterized by annoying sexual advances, gestures, communications and other acts aimed at others. The recipient feels that these actions are a violation of their rights and hamper their work. Since the past decade, there has been a universal awareness and acknowledgement that "Sexual Harassment" does exist and is widely prevalent at the workplace. There have been several measures which have been introduced at the workplace by Governments, employers' and workers' associations all over the world. Legislations, awareness campaigns, counselling and training of employees have been some of the measures to fight and prevent "Sexual Harassment" at the workplace. The Me-too movement has brought several skeletons out of the closet. Though validity of all cases have not and cannot be established, such situations push the case for stronger awareness programs regarding what acts could be construed as "Sexual Harassment". This conceptual paper aims at highlighting how training employees and employers can help in the prevention of "Sexual Harassment" at the workplace. Based on the analysis of literature, this conceptual paper aims to present a theoretical framework indicating the importance of training as a preventive intervention to stem sexual harassment. Hence a conceptual framework to depict the frequency, duration, methodologies and target audiences of various training interventions and the expected outcomes of the same has been developed.
SAMVAD: SIBM Pune Research Journal, Vol XIX, 1-11, December 2019
ISSN (Print) : 2249-1880
ISSN (Online) : 2348-5329
Prevention of “Sexual Harassment” at the
Workplace—Can Training Help?
Kirti Shivakumar*
Professor, KLS IMER, Belgaum – 590011,
Karnataka, India; dr.kirti@klsimer.edu
Keywords: Anti “Sexual Harassment” Training, Sexual Harassment, Training
JEL Classication: M5 Personnel Economics, M53 Training
Abstract
With the workforce becoming increasingly diverse, a variety of ethical issues crop up at work. One of the biggest challenges
is sexual harassment. “Sexual Harassment” is characterized by annoying sexual advances, gestures, communications and
other acts aimed at others. The recipient feels that these actions are a violation of their rights and hamper their work.
Since the past decade, there has been a universal awareness and acknowledgement that “Sexual Harassment” does exist
and is widely prevalent at the workplace. There have been several measures which have been introduced at the workplace
by Governments, employers’ and workers’ associations all over the world. Legislations, awareness campaigns, counselling
     
The Me-too movement has brought several skeletons out of the closet. Though validity of all cases have not and cannot
be established, such situations push the case for stronger awareness programs regarding what acts could be construed
as “Sexual Harassment”. This conceptual paper aims at highlighting how training employees and employers can help in
the prevention of “Sexual Harassment” at the workplace. Based on the analysis of literature, this conceptual paper aims
to present a theoretical framework indicating the importance of training as a preventive intervention to stem sexual
harassment. Hence a conceptual framework to depict the frequency, duration, methodologies and target audiences of
various training interventions and the expected outcomes of the same has been developed.
1. Introduction
Since the past decade, there has been a universal awareness
and acknowledgement that “Sexual Harassment” does
exist and is widely prevalent at the workplace. ere have
been several measures which have been introduced at
the workplace by Governments, employers’ and workers’
associations all over the world. Legislations, awareness
campaigns, counselling and training of employees have
been some of the measures to ght and prevent “Sexual
Harassment” at the workplace.
This paper aims at highlighting how training
employees and employers can help in the prevention
of “Sexual Harassment” at the workplace. Training
here refers to training people from the following
categories:
• Employees in general - about awareness, complaints
and consequences.
• Victims in specic - about how to raise complaints,
whom to approach, their rights, etc.
• Employers - about managing such behaviour, prevention
measures, creating a “safe” workplace and how to handle
complaints.
• Internal Complaint Committee (IC or ICC) members-
Steps in handling complaints, using tact and attitude
required, creating a conducive environment for the
victim to come out fearlessly.
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Prevention of “Sexual Harassment” at the Workplace—Can Training Help?
2. Background
With the workforce becoming increasingly diverse, a
variety of ethical issues crop up at work. One of the
biggest challenges is sexual harassment at the place of
work. “Sexual Harassment” is characterized by annoying
sexual advances, gestures, communications and other
acts aimed at others. e recipient feels that these actions
are a violation of their rights and hamper their work.
e results of a survey conducted by SHRM in 2018
(Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM),
2018) brought out a serious, startling fact where
organizations have recorded an upsurge in the number of
“Sexual Harassment” complaints over the past two years.
Both male and female employees had complained of sexual
harassment. 37% of the organizations who had participated
in the survey claimed that they had some kind of training
given every year to employees about “Sexual Harassment”
at the workplace. 8% of the organizations had plans to train
their employees about the same issue in the coming year.
25% of the organizations declared that there had been a
steady increase in the number of complaints about “Sexual
Harassment” being led, recently. According to the ILO,
“Sexual Harassment, especially when it happens at the
place of work, becomes a hurdle in the way of providing
safe and decent environment for all its employees. Research
has indicated that the magnitude of the problem of “Sexual
Harassment” at the workplace has increased because of
ineective policies, lack of commitment amongst managers
as well as trained manpower to deal with cases of workplace
sexual harassment (Sharma, 2010).
In 2018, a survey conducted by SHRM (Society for
Human Resource Management (SHRM), 2018), reports
that though 94% of the respondents say that their
company has a policy in place to protect its employees
against “Sexual Harassment”, and 72% of the employees
in the US, are happy with the company’s eorts to prevent
harassment, yet more than 1/3 of them believe that their
workplace oers many situations and opportunities for
harassment. e survey further brings out that constant
awareness programs can educate the team about behaviors
are correct, and which behaviours must be avoided at the
workplace.
Kristin Smith, Sharyn Potter, and Jane Stapleton
analysed the data presented by the Granite State Poll in
2018 (Kristin Smith, 2019). e report indicates that
more than 50% of the women and at least 25% of the men
in New Hampshire have experienced some sort of “sexual
Harassment” or the other at their place of work. e wide
spread prevalence of such incidents of Sexual harassment
all over the world indicate that, sexual harassment is not
conned to any one particular country or culture.
e “#MeToo”1 movement which has caught
momentum like a raging inferno has brought many
skeletons tumbling out of many unlikely closets. ough
validity of all cases have not and cannot be established, such
situations push the case for stronger awareness programs
regarding what acts could be construed as “Sexual
Harassment. Many cases which have stemmed from
“ignorance” and “lack of awareness’ by the organisation,
the perpetrator or the survivor could have been avoided
if structured awareness programs, or training (on how to
le complaints, how to handle complaints and malicious
complaints) had been conducted.
erefore, the objectives of this paper are as follows:
• Present the conceptual clarity about “sexual
harassment”, types, impact and the legal framework.
• Identify the essentials of a comprehensive training
intervention, suggesting frequency, duration and
contents for the same.
• Present a framework based on an analysis of existing
literature how training employees and employers can
help in the prevention of “Sexual Harassment” at the
workplace.
• To depict the frequency, duration, methodologies and
target audiences of various training interventions and
the expected outcomes through this framework.
3. What is “Sexual Harassment”?
According to the Supreme Court of India, “Sexual
Harassment” refers to “any unwelcome, sexually determined
1 It was in 2006, that a movement called as the “Me Too Movement”
or #MeToo was started by Ms. Tarana Burk, to assist the victims
of “sexual harassment” and violence. It was started as movement
to instill confidence in the survivors of “sexual harassment” to let
them know they were not alone in their fight. Harvey Weinstein
was one of the largest names to come out in this movement. The
movement made women and some men come out of their silence
and speak about their abuse and the violence they had faced.
12 million posts were uploaded on Facebook by about 5 million
people using the hastag #MeToo. This movement spread to India
too and saw the likes of M.J. Akbar, Alok Nath, Anu Malik, Nana
Patekar and several others being called out publicly on allegations
of “sexual harassment”.
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Kirti Shivakumar
physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct” (Supreme Court
of India, 2013). e court has cited certain examples which
range from “sexually suggestive remarks about women,
demands for sexual favours, and sexually oensive visuals in
the workplace. (Supreme Court of India, 2013) According
to Nemy (1975), the phrase “Sexual Harassment “was used
by Lin Farley at a public forum in New York in April 1975,
when she was putting forward her deposition related to
women and workplaces to the Human Rights Commission
of New York.
Since the term “Sexual Harassment” is very subjective,
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission2of
the United States of America, came up with a very
appropriate explanation which not only dened the act
but also the nature of such actions. “Unwelcome sexual
advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal
or physical conduct of a sexual nature”(U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission {EEOC}, 2009).
e commission further went on to indicate that sexual
harassment is generally characterized by:
• Any act or behaviour which is explicit or implicit
and sets any terms or conditions for an individual’s
employment.
• When an individual reject such an act or behaviour,
this rejection is used as the justication for any job
related decisions which aect the individual, most
oen in a negative manner.
• ese act’s or behaviour result in creating a hostile and
insecure workplace for the individual, he/she ends up
feeling intimidated and insecure, thus leading to an
adverse impact on productivity and behaviour.
is denition led to a universally accepted explanation
of the term Sexual Harassment. Following this, the World
Bank dened “Sexual Harassment” as “any unwelcome
sexual advance, request for sexual favor or other verbal,
non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which
unreasonably interferes with work, is made a condition of
2 e U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to
discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of
the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender
identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older),
disability or genetic information. According to the EEO, “Sexual
Harassment” is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. , https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/
publications/fs-sex.cfm, retrieved on 4/08/17 at 3.39 pm.
employment, or creates an intimidating, hostile or oensive
environment.” (Nachison, 1996) Sexual Harassment” at
workplace is said to occur when personnel decisions are
based on gender, instead of an employees qualication
or performance (Haspels, 2001). It has been viewed that
workplace “Sexual Harassment” is an unfair treatment of
women and a form of blatant gender discrimination. On
the other hand, we can see that there are several occasions
where males have been the victims.
Business Dictionary comes up with a comprehensive
denition of “Sexual Harassment”, explaining it as
“Workplace harassment (employment discrimination)
consisting of unwelcome and repeated sexual advances,
comments, looks, physical contact, stereotyping, request
for sexual favors; or any such act not clearly sexual in
nature when (1) submission to such act is (whether
explicitly or implicitly) made a term or condition of
employment, (2) submission to rejection of such conduct
is used as a basis for employment related decision
aecting the individual, or (3) such conduct has the
purpose of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s
performance, or of creating an hostile, intimidating, or
oensive work environment” (Web Finance Inc., 2019)
erefore, we can understand that “Sexual Harassment
is an act which is not welcome or encouraged, which
focusses on request of sexual behaviour, an act which is
demeaning and not appreciated by the receiver and makes
him/her feel oended, insulted and in many circumstances,
scared.
4. Common Types of “Sexual
Harassment” at Work
It was in 2013 that ‘e Sexual Harassment of Women
at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)
Act’ was passed. is act has provided a comprehensive
denition of what is “Sexual Harassment”. (Supreme
Court of India, 2013) Dening sexual harassment as any
“unwelcome, sexually determined physical, verbal, or
non-verbal conduct” (Supreme Court of India, 2013),
the handbook released indicates that sexually coloured
remarks, sexual suggestions, demand for any kind of sexual
favours, sexual photographs, pictures, jokes and gestures,
come under the ambit of sexual harassment. In the same
act, the court also highlights that creating a situation or
environment where the woman feels threaten and insecure
at her workplace also constitutes sexual harassment.
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Prevention of “Sexual Harassment” at the Workplace—Can Training Help?
The act has also defined the concept of workplace.
Workplace has been defined as “private sector
organisation/private venture/undertaking/enterprise/
institution/establishment/society/trust/non-
governmental organisation/unit or service provider
and places visited by employee (arising out of or during
the course of employment, including transportation
provided by employer for undertaking journey).
(Supreme Court of India, 2013). The workplace
does not refer to just any physical space or room or
premises, it refers to the circumstances where such
unwelcome acts or behaviour is committed, refers to
the environment created. Most importantly it expands
the term “workplace harassment” to refer to any kind
of harassment during lunch times, or even when
travelling to and from work, during the course of work,
and even outside the physical office space.
It is important to understand that harassment does
not refer to any one single act or incident; it may refer to
a series of acts, in the same or varying forms. Generally,
people looking into the complaints of sexual harassment
tend to discuss and refer to one act or event or incident. e
reality is that whether it is one act of any of these (sexually
coloured remarks, sexual suggestions, demand for any
kind of sexual favours, sexual photographs, pictures, jokes
and gestures) in isolation or in combination, the impact
on the victim is overlooked (Dang, 2017)
In general, acts of “Sexual Harassment” at the
workplace can be classied into two types, “quid pro quo”
and “hostile work environment.” (U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission {EEOC}, 2009).3 In the
handbook released by the Supreme Court of India in
2013, the two types of behaviours which amount to sexual
harassment are further explained as follows.
3 In 1979, Catherine MacKinnon classied sexual harassment at
work into two broad types. “condition of work” (referred commonly
as “hostile environment”) and “quid pro quo” (sexual harassment in
“quid pro quo”, “sexual compliance is exchanged, or proposed to be
exchanged, for an employment opportunity”). “Hostile environment”
refers to a work environment which is made unbearable and
uncomfortable for the woman because of “unwanted sexual attention”.
“Quid pro quo” refers to a situation where the woman is forced to
give in to or agree to give sexual favours in return for some work/
employment related benets, or forgo work/employment benets if she
does not give certain sexual favours to her boss/colleague. MacKinnon
in her book brought out several situations when both forms of sexual
harassment may happen simultaneously (Mackinnion, 1979).
• “Quid Pro Quo (literally ‘this for that’) - Implied or
explicit promise of preferential/detrimental treatment
in employment - Implied or express threat about her
present or future employment status.” (Supreme Court
of India, 2013).
• “Hostile Work Environment - Creating a hostile,
intimidating or an oensive work environment -
Humiliating treatment likely to aect her health or
safety.” (Supreme Court of India, 2013).
Regardless of the geographical context, “Sexual Harassment”
is manifested in any of these three main types.
• Unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. Such an act is
purposeful and is done with the objective of demeaning,
intimidating or oending a person with his/her sexual
behaviour. It insults the dignity of a person, making
the victim feel uncomfortable. Example: Showing nude
pictures, making oensive sexually explicit gestures,
sending sexually explicit jokes by email, commenting on
a person’s body parts, persistent and aggressive request
for dates, and “lewd” double meaning conversation.
• e second type is sex-related harassment; such
conduct is also unwelcome and unwanted. It stems
from the aggressive behaviour of a person who makes
the victim feel small and undignied because of his/
her gender. Examples are: - discussing about the
paternity of an unborn child, comments about female
employees who have to leave their child in day care,
comments about women employees who have to go
home early to care for their children. With many
transgender employees joining the work force this
would become all the more challenging.
• e third category of “Sexual Harassment” is the
treatment of an employee who has rejected or accepted
a sexual advance of an employee. For e.g. if an employee
has rejected a sexual advance made by her boss, he may
in turn treat her unfavourably and harass her by giving
more work, or tasks not related to her job. Or a male
employee, who responds to a sexual advance made by
his female boss, later gets insulted and jeered by her.
5. Impact of Sexual Harassment
“Sexual Harassment” in organisations has adverse
consequences both for the organisation as well as to the
victim. e consequences can be of an immediate nature
as well as have a long lasting impact on both.
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Kirti Shivakumar
It leads to emotional, physical and psychological
upheaval in the victim. e victim feels shamed, demotivated
and emotionally scarred. Female victims have oen
reported nancial losses because of being demoted, unable
to perform well, being red or leaving their jobs as a result
of the harassment (Kristin Smith, 2019). Victims of sexual
harassment oen blame themselves and experience a feeling
of guilt, suer from sleep related disorders, and end up
being restless and depressed (Kristin Smith, 2019). Women
who have been subject to sexual and gender harassment
suer a signicant setback in their work and emotional
wellbeing(Emily Leskinen, 2011).
On the other hand, it leads to several costs to
organizations. “e costs to organizations include
increased turnover and absenteeism, lower individual
and group productivity, loss of managerial time to
investigate complaints, and legal expenses, including
litigation costs and paying damages to victims” (Welsh,
2000). A study covering 8108 employees of three Latin
American countries namely, Argentina, Brazil and Chile
indicated that employees feel increased tendency to
leave their jobs and the absenteeism increases (Merkin,
2008). Research has indicated that sexual harassment
is damaging for the organisation since it resulted in
reduced workforce morale, increased absenteeism and
reduced productivity (Merkin, 2008). When the news
of any sexual harassment incidents spreads, it becomes
“viral” in no time thanks to social media and technology.
Such bad news about the organisation severely damages
the image of the organisation especially when it
comes to partnerships, good will and more so when
it comes toits reputation as a good/safe place to work
(Kanjamala, 2019).
6. Literature Review
A survey of the literature described below, indicates
that training programs about “Sexual Harassment” may
reduce its occurrence. Research has provided evidence
that training goes a long way in sensitizing people about
the issue of “Sexual Harassment” and its consequences.
Training also creates awareness of what acts could be
construed as sexual harassment.
Schneider, Kimberly T. Swan, Suzanne, Fitzgerald,
Louise F, have indicated that the extent of “Sexual
Harassment” is very high, pointing out that 1 out of
2 women has been harassed at one time or the other
during her academic or professional life (Schneider,
1997). is research has brought out the negative impact
of “Sexual Harassment” on the victim. In addition, they
have suggestions on various measures to prevent “Sexual
Harassment” at the workplace. e research states
that training people (both employees and employers)
regarding “Sexual Harassment” could lead to awareness
of the consequences on the accused and the victim and
help in containing this menace.
Hersch in her research indicated that “Sexual
Harassment” at the workplace has long lasting eects on
the organisation as well as the victim, it proved costlier to
the victim because they suer from a range of emotional
and physical side eects from such harassment. e
researcher further explains that, “widely accepted best
practices involve the promulgation of a strong policy
prohibiting sexual harassment, workplace training, and a
complaints process that protects workers from retaliation”
(Hersch, 2015).
Antecol H. and Cobb-Clark D, in their research
brought out important evidence that “Sexual
Harassment” training programs may be useful in leading
workers to be more sensitive to the issue of sexual
harassment” (Antecol, 2003). It indicates that there is an
enhanced understanding, especially in men, what kind
of acts constitute “Sexual Harassment” and therefore
they would abstain from it.
Ali F. and Kramar R. in their study of “Sexual
Harassment” in Pakistani organizations bring out the
fact that “even when there are formal policies designed
to prevent SH, cultural factors inuence policy
implementation” (Ali, 2015). is is an indication that it is
necessary to bring about a cultural change in organisations
through training and other such interventions.
In a research conducted by Punam Sahgal and Aastha
Dang, across the country a questionnaire was sent to
more than 750 female managers. From the 200 responses
they received they concluded that the number of sexual
harassment cases experienced by women was very
alarming. According the researchers support sta, sta
from lower hierarchical positions suer more incidences
of workplace sexual harassment. A very dismal fact
brought out by this survey was that when women are in
lower ranks or positions, they are usually hesitant and
nervous but when they women rise to senior levels giving
them power, they become unconcerned and unwilling
to support or understand the problems of their female
colleagues (Dang, 2017). However, the researchers
indicate that many organisations are taking proactive
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Prevention of “Sexual Harassment” at the Workplace—Can Training Help?
stances towards sexual harassments. Some organisations
have developed an organizational support to protect
women not just by taking immediate action against the
oender but also providing emotional support by way of
counselling to help the victim overcome the trauma.
Results of several surveys and researches by Antecol
H. and Cobb-clark D, Steven V. Cates and Lynn Machin,
have shown that “Sexual Harassment” training programs
may make employees more sensitive to the issue of sexual
harassment (Steven V. Cates and Lynn Machin, February
2012) (Antecol, 2003).
A study of the available research on “Sexual Harassment
indicates that there are strong recommendations for
developing comprehensive policies in organisations to
prevent “Sexual Harassment”. Going further there are
ample researches to indicate that it’s not just enough to
have a policy, organisations must develop interventions to
communicate the policy across all levels (Livingston, 1982).
Employees hesitate to report incidents of sexual harassment,
in organisations which have informal procedures of dealing
with “Sexual Harassment” ((Biaggio, 1990) (Gadlin H. ,
1991) (Lach, 1993) (McKinney, 1988)). ese studies have
demonstrated that if individuals are informed properly
about the policies regarding sexual harassment, the victim
is more likely to report it and the perpetuator may hesitate
to indulge in such acts, knowing that the organisation has
a stringent mechanism in place to deal with the oenders.
Research by Gruber, Gwartney-Gibbs and Lach has
indicated that if organizational environment does not
discourage acts of sexual harassment, victims may actually
feel inhibited to report such behaviour.
Based on the analysis of literature, this conceptual
paper aims to present a theoretical framework indicating
the importance of training as a preventive intervention to
stem sexual harassment. Hence a conceptual framework
to depict the time frame and target audiences of various
training interventions and the expected outcomes of the
same has been developed (Figure 1).
7. Need for Training in Prevention
of “Sexual Harassment” at
Work and Current Status
As can be understood from the literature survey, several
reports and researches have put forward the fact that
incidences of “Sexual Harassment” at workplaces are not
new and that discussions have been going around how to
combat this menace since the 1970s. Globally, it has been
viewed as a kind of discrimination and violence against
women. Since the late 1990s, countries have been working
towards coming out with specic legal measures on the
basic of which they can declaring that “Sexual Harassment”
is a civil and criminal oence. e ILO report highlights
that employers are being viewed as responsible for the
enforcement of such legal measures at the workplace
through creating policies to prevent sexual harassment.
e employer cannot abdicate his responsibility in making
the workplace a safe place to work. Just as he is liable if any
accident takes place, he is also liable if an act of “Sexual
Harassment” take place. erefore, employers are obliged
to design Anti “Sexual Harassment” policies based on the
Government framework, create awareness and ensure
that these policies are implemented. e employer is also
required to create an environment where the victim does
not hesitate to voice his/her complaint. Employees, NGOs,
and Employers organizations are designing sample policies,
guiding organisations on compliance as well as carrying out
research and training. Nevertheless, the onus of sensitizing
employees about the issue of “Sexual Harassment” rests on
the employer, so that incidences of “Sexual Harassment” at
the workplace can be prevented.
ough Anti “Sexual Harassment” training of employees
is not statutory, many countries have incorporated the
clause in the laws where specic training regarding sexual
training is compulsory. In India, Prevention of “Sexual
Harassment” at the Workplace, commonly known as
POSH, is founded on a statute passed in December 2013.
Chapter VIII, Section 19 of the act makes it mandatory
for the employer to “organize workshops and awareness
programmes at regular intervals for sensitizing the
employees with the provisions of the Act and orientation
programmes for the members of the internal Committee
in the manner as may be prescribed” (Ministry of Women
and Child Development, GOI, 2013). is is to ensure that
no one can claim “ignorance” as an excuse.
is Act requires every company to form an Internal
Complaint Committee (ICC). e objective of this
committee receives and enquires into any complaints
regarding “Sexual Harassment” in the organization. It
is mandatory that the ICC members must be trained to
handle complaints and be fully aware of the procedure
to look into such matters, which are referred to them.
Along with this, the Act has also stressed upon the role
of the Government, and said that wherever possible, the
Government must provide training materials, awareness
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Kirti Shivakumar
workshops and other measure to create awareness on how
to deal with the prevention of this menace as well as how
to handle complaints.
Ina survey conducted by E and Y in 2015, it was
found that 21% of the respondents’ organizations had not
conducted any awareness campaigns for its employees
regarding sexual harassment. 44% of the employees who
responded expressed that they were not aware of the penal
consequences of “Sexual Harassment” and neither had their
organisation put up any signs/posters etc. regarding the
same (EY Forensic & Integrity Services , 2015). Amongst
the 27% of the MNCs surveyed and 50% of the SMEs which
responded to the survey had not conducted any training for
their ICC members. Further the survey revealed that across
all sectors there was very little or no training conducted
for employees especially for the new employees. It was also
revealed that even in IT companies, 46% of the companies
have not capitalized on their IT expertise to provide online
modules to create awareness amongst new comers (EY
Forensic & Integrity Services , 2015).
8. How can Training Prevent or
Reduce “Sexual Harassment”
at the Workplace?
Most employers develop well worded policies related to
anti-sexual harassment. Research has however indicated
that employers believe that their responsibilities start and
end with bring a policy into a place as well as setting up the
compulsory (Haspels, 2001) (Dang, 2017) (Sharma, 2010).
Many organisations develop an anti-sexual harassment
policy. However, it can be seen that employers adopt an
almost indierent attitude towards sexual harassment and
therefore assume their responsibilities end with draing
a policy and setting up the mandatory ICC or Internal
Complaint Committee which is a must as per the act. ey
do not recognize that training can provide the vital bridge
between the anti-sexual harassment policies and perceived
positive outcomes. In short, employers must realize that
even the best policy, without the support of training would
remain nothing but a paper tiger (Lindenberg, 2003).
us the responsibility of an employer according to
the “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act,
2013”, is not just to set up a complaint committee but to
ensure that the employees are aware of the ways to seek
redressal, how to raise a complaint, and understand the
penal provisions under the act. All these have made
training and awareness sessions the need of the hour, so
that employees understand the law and the consequences
of violation and non-conformity.
Employers or employees can no longer claim ignorance
when they are faced with cases of sexual harassment. It is
oen seen that “Sexual Harassment” is more likely to occur in
workplace environments that tolerate bullying, intimidation,
yelling, innuendo and other forms of discourteous behaviour”
(Orser, 2000). Going beyond just the mandatory training,
the employer must invest in interventions that change the
mindset of employees focusing on inclusion and gender
sensitivity. Training employees not to be mute bystanders
through such interventions and supporting victims to
complain fearlessly would help to develop an atmosphere
where people understand they cannot get away easily aer
sexually harassing a colleague. (Kristin Smith, 2019).
8.1 Given below are some of the most
important ways in which training can
prevent or reduce “Sexual Harassment”
at the workplace
8.1.1 Create awareness: Awareness can help in the
following ways
• Curtailment of such behaviours which may be
viewed as “sexual” and punishable. When the author
described 20 behaviours/acts to men and women,
there were about 9 acts which both viewed as oensive
or inappropriate, while there were 14 acts which
only women perceived as oensive. is is a clear
indication that amongst many men, there is a lack of
awareness and a gap amongst the understanding of
men and women as to how various actions/gestures
could be viewed. For example, placing an arm around
a woman could be taken as a sexually intimidating
gesture by the woman. When awareness is generated
that certain acts are those which could be termed as
sexual harassment” males may desist from such acts.
• Awareness of how to react in such situations. In the
unfortunate circumstances if such an act/event occurs,
the victim must know whom to complain to and what
should be his/her reaction. Such awareness would
create an environment where the victim is facilitated to
speak fearlessly. is in turn would ring a bell of caution
to stall/prevent any other further such incidents.
• Awareness to the employer: e employer also
becomes aware of how to handle such situations, how
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8
Prevention of “Sexual Harassment” at the Workplace—Can Training Help?
to design concrete policies and how to implement
them. It helps in legal compliance. Employers must be
aware that it is not just the aggressor who is liable for
punishment. If the victim can prove that the employer
did not have the proper mechanism in place to prevent
and redress “Sexual Harassment” complaints, the
employer is also liable for punishment. Added to this
would be the damage it could cause to the reputation
and goodwill of the company.
8.1.2 Enhancing Diversity Management
e employee of today needs to move away from narrow,
conservative thinking to broader, inclusive mindsets.
Whatever his personal views on gender, sexual orientation,
dressing etc., he cannot carry them to the workplace and
endanger the workplace. With more number of LGBT’s
at the workplace, sensitization of employees is very
essential. We must learn to accept that our teams mate
may be completely dierent from us in various ways and
stop being judgmental. erefore, training regarding
diversity must include anti “Sexual Harassment” training.
Teasing or ridiculing people because they are transgender,
lesbians or gays are viewed as acts of “Sexual Harassment”
globally. Diversity and “Sexual Harassment” training
must go hand in hand to build inclusive organisation.
8.2 How Training can Help in Managing
Complaints?
e POSH Act has stipulated certain conditions for an
employer to comply with. One important requirement is
the formation of an Internal Complain Committee oen
referred to as the ICC or IC. (Supreme Court of India,
2013). is is the body which is supposed to receive and
handle the complaints from the woman and conduct
enquiries according to the norms laid down in the Act as
well as the company policy. Any organisation having ten
or more employees must have an ICC which has been set
up by the employer. e names of these members have
to be prominently displayed at prominent places of the
organisations. e ICC usually constitutes of
• A chairperson, who is a senior women employee in the
organisation.
• Two women employees- who have knowledge of the
law and are committed to the cause of women.
• One external member from an NGO or any woman
who is passionate about the cause of women.
While the description of the qualications of the
members of the ICC is very vague in the act, it is very clear
in the Act that the ICC is mandatory. As evinced from the
case at Novaso technologies the absence of a Complaints
Committee or an ICC violates the fundamental right
of the woman to a free and fair working place. (Ms. G
v. ISG Novaso Technologies Ltd. Madras High Court
(Crl.R.C.No.370 of 2014 order dated 02.09. 2014. Original
Petition No.463 of 2012), (Indiankanoon.org, 2019) e
victim was awarded a sum of R.1.68 crores in damages
because the company had not constituted a Complaint
Committee in line with the Vishaka Judgement4.
To ensure that the ICC embers can do their jobs
responsibly, it is required to train them about the law, the
procedures and the required skills to handle an issue as
delicate as sexual harassment.
e two most important skills for which ICC members
must be trained are discussed below.
8.2.1 Handling Complaints Sensitively
e ICC members must be trained to look into all
complaints and maters referred to them objectively
and sensitively. Probing incidents, asking questions,
and trying to gather more information about reported
incidents require a lot of tact and skill. Bias and
judgmental stances do a lot of damage and can weaken
the protective social fabric of the organisation. Facts
must be gathered without taking sides, and in such
situations empathy is the key.
8.2.2 Handling Malicious Complaints
e ip side to strict policy implementation to deal
with acts of “Sexual Harassment” is that it also attracts
malicious complaints. Such complaints are led with
a mala de intent to discredit and harm a person, even
4 It was in 1997 that an NGO Vishaka and other women’s
organisations led a PIL against the Government of India and State
of Rajasthan. e objective of this petition was to pressurize the
Government to ensure that Articles 14, 19 and 21 of our Constitution
were enforced and women were protected from sexual harassment
at the workplace. is PIL was led in the aermath of the gang
rape of Bhanwari Devi, for ghting against the practice of child
marriage. e result of the PIL was the formulation of the Vishaka
Guidelines, where Justice J.S. Verma, Justice Sujata Manohar and
Just B.N. Kirpal passed a stringent judgement focusing on what
sexual harassment at the workplace meant and guidelines to deal
with the menace.
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Kirti Shivakumar
though no such act has occurred. Malicious complaints
related to “Sexual Harassment” increase post appraisals or
performance assessments. (E and Y report, 2015). Making
everyone aware of what “Sexual Harassment” is and what
would happen if complaints are found malicious, could
reduce the incidences of false complaints.
8.3 When should such Training
Programmes be Conducted?
8.3.1 During the Induction
e induction program is the perfect time to educate the
new hires about all the policies of the organisation. e
socialization of the employee must start with not just
the vision and mission statements but also the values of
the company. is is the ideal time for the employees to
be informed about the company’s stance towards sexual
harassment. It is the responsibility of the HR department
and the organisation to drive home the view that “Sexual
Harassment” is a serious oence. e company policy
regarding “Sexual Harassment” must be clearly explained
to employees, making them aware of what “Sexual
Harassment” is, what are the consequences of such
actions, how to face such situations, who to complain to
and so on.
8.3.2 Compliance Management Programs
Compliance management refers to the manner in which
an organisation seeks to educate and enforce on its
employees the various internal policies/regulations as
well as the government rules and regulations that the
employee and the organisation has to follow. Research has
shown that employees who receive compliance training
are more productive, have lower turnover rates, are more
ecient, and need less supervision. Most employees
know what are the do’s and don’ts at the workplace, but
all are not aware of what kind of acts of omission or
commission would be viewed as improper and more
importantly, illegal. ere are many minute and subtle
issues, which employees may not understand but which
may violate company policy. Making it mandatory for all
employees to attend compliance management programs
would ensure that employees have no misunderstanding
of company’s norms. When employees understand
their compliance responsibilities, the result is an ethical
workplace where employees develop a productive and
respectful relationship.
8.3.3 Pre Departure on International Assignments
Training an employee before he takes on an expatriate
assignment should be aimed at increasing the employees
understanding about the host country, the society he
would live in, the culture, the values and most important
the dos and don’ts. Conducting such training before he
leaves would help in a better cross cultural experience as
well as a reduction in misunderstandings.
9. How to Ensure that the
Company’s Anti-Sexual
Harassment” Training is
Eective?
Ideally anti-sexual harassment training programs must
begin right from the onboarding process. e company
must make it very clear that acts of bullying intimidation
and any form of sexual harassment is a grave oence.
During the induction programme the company must
have a comprehensive introduction to the code of
conduct of all employees, what actions could constitute
harassment and the dos and don’ts at work, even outside
the physical premises of the organisation. e usage of
more participative methods like case studies, role plays,
videos for the training would be more eective to help
employees understand the company’s stance on sexual
harassment. Training should be conducted across all
levels, so that there is awareness as well as a caution that
any kind of behaviour which even borders on sexual
harassment will not be tolerated. Regardless of how
eective the induction training is, periodical campaigns,
awareness through posters, emails must be an ongoing
process, so that there is a reinforcement of learning.
• e compliance management program has to be
communicated eectively. Stories/incidences which
have happened must be used. It is the most eective
way of attracting your employees’ attention. e
program has to be delivered in simple language
without using too much of legal terminology.
• Learning has to be reinforced at periodic intervals.
Change will be slow and cannot be achieved overnight.
Ideally employers must communicate clearly,
consistently and rmly what kind of behaviours are
acceptable and what kind of behaviours, language,
gestures, etc. are inappropriate for the workplace.
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Prevention of “Sexual Harassment” at the Workplace—Can Training Help?
• Pictures and images have to be used to make the
training more eective. Posters, pictures in mails and
circulars may make the understanding of delicate yet
important issues, much easier. e training program
can be supplemented with handouts of slides.
• A blend of online and oine training may be used to
make the learning more eective.
10. Conclusion
e Vishaka judgement no doubt claried the meaning of
sexual harassment, the meaning of workplace and made it
mandatory for every employer to have a code of conduct
at the workplace. While issuing guidelines to deal with
sexual harassment, the Court pointed out the fact that
it was an issue of human rights violation and therefore
organisations must take up this issue very seriously.
Employment-related “Sexual Harassment” imposes
large costs on both workers and their employers. Many
organizations have responded by implementing formal
policies, grievance procedures, or training programs.
Organizations must have proactive well dened policies,
rather than those aimed at just satisfying compliance
management requirements. Organisations must hold
training programmes for the employees as well as hold
seminars and skill building programmes for the members
of the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC), which must
be part of the Anti-Sexual Harassment team. If any policy
has to have an impact and eective implementation,
supportive training is a must (Lindenberg, 2003).
It is mandatory under the Prevention of “Sexual
Harassment” at the Workplace Act that members of the
ICC must undergo an orientation to understand their role
and responsibilities. e employer can enhance awareness
in the employees by inviting external facilitators belonging
to other women’s groups, NGOs and legal bodies.
Employers can involve any of these external facilitators
to orient and sensitize their employees. e government
has published enough content which can be used in the
employers’ eorts to disseminate the company’s policy
about “Sexual Harassment”.
Proactive organisations can help themselves by
training its employees not just understand what sexual
harassment is, but also sensitize all employees on the
eects of sexual harassment on the victim and his/her
families. ere are instances when sensitive employers
have conducted ‘Bystander training’ so that perpetrators
think twice before indulging in such acts and the others
do not remain as mute bystanders/observers (Kristin
Smith, 2019). Employers cannot just wash o their
hands o such incidents, because they are not just one
time incidents, they are persistent behaviour which cause
trauma. Counselling the victim to face the trauma and
reassuring her /him that they are not alone. Employers
could identify women and develop them to become
mentors to such women.
Organisations which have spent considerable eort
and resources to develop ethical work practices and an
inclusive culture can develop extra commitment in their
employees. Training is one of the most eective ways to
develop a comprehensive approach to the prevention
of sexual harassment and any kind of misappropriate
behaviour. It must be made mandatory for all employees
to participate in the training to obtain the necessary
knowledge and skills to contribute towards a safe and
healthy workplace (Traliant, 2018) When organisations
depict a true sense of commitment to employees,
employees too would go that extra stretch to be more
productive and result oriented (Dang, 2017) (Lindenberg,
2003). is is where training can bridge the gap between
actual behaviour and expected behaviour.
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https://doi.org/10.1177/10778010022181750
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Remedial actions to curtail and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace have focused on providing victims with legal redress, establishing employers' responsibilities, and encouraging employees to resist harassment. This paper discusses these various forms of response to sexual harassment. First, the development of judicial and legal criteria defining harassment as illegal behavior and establishing parameters of employer responsibilities are reviewed. Then, the discussion examines actions employers have taken to meet their responsibilities (e.g., issuing policy statements). Secondary analyses of data collected from 3139 women who reported experiences of sexual harassment are used to explore individual responses to harassment, and potential determinants of those responses. Finally, support services provided by women's organizations are discussed, and some conclusions are drawn about the impact of remedial actions on the prevention of sexual harassment on the job.
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Describes a theoretical model that suggests that sexual harassment (SH) is the most visible example of many workplace disputes that systematically disadvantage women in the workplace. The model describes workplace disputes, including SH, as consisting of origins, processes, and outcomes. A review of empirical findings suggests that individual-, occupational-, and organizational-level variables all influence the origins of SH, while the processes and outcomes of SH disputes are documented at the individual level. It is suggested that the prevalence of workplace SH contributes to the persistence of occupational sex segregation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)