Lessons from Genpact Sexual harassment case
Genpact case of sexual harassment and unfortunate suicide of AVP due to the charges of SH against him by two women employees and management’s action of his suspension has sent chilling waves among HR professionals, internal committee members and women employees across board .
After Me-too movement, the issue of sexual harassment has once again come in centre of debate but this time it has different angle. The incident has brought forward few dimensions to understand and take some lessons too from it because the senior executive who has committed suicide, has left a note behind stating that the allegations of sexual harassment against him were false and he was not given opportunity of hearing and was suspended and his wife has lodged an FIR against Top company management executives and IC members for committing the offence of abetment of suicide. The matter is under investigation. Without commenting upon the merit of the case, organisations and specially HR professionals may draw following lessons:
1- Though the complaint of sexual harassment should be taken up with due sensitivity and priority, panic button should not be pressed in all incidents. In this case, it appears as reported in media, that on the day of complaints, the AVP was put under suspension, he was not allowed to work from home and his access to his computer was also disallowed. Here the complaints, first, should have gone to IC, then it was for IC female presiding officer or any member as may be deputed by her to initially investigate in to the complaints to assess the correctness and gravity, interview the complainants in camera and if prima facie the complaints were found to have case of SH, the IC is under obligation to issue show cause notice to respondent (Harasser) with copy of complaints and documents provided by complainants asking him to reply the complaints. Though , management has powers to suspend the employee as per his terms of employment or service rules in cases of misconduct, The POSH law does give any powers to employer to suspend the respondent ( Harasser) immediately on receiving the complaint against him. The employer can transfer such person to some other location on the recommendation of IC after request from aggrieved woman employee. If the organisation has no such rules or policy or terms of employment prescribing the disciplinary procedure, drawing powers of suspension, duly agreed by employee, it may be difficult for any organisation to justify such action because it is not a case of workman who falls under certified standing orders applicable on him. The matters of SH not only involve two employees but two independent lives leaving impact on their families and society at as a whole. It can make or break.
2- Instead of preferring for redressal mechanism only having in place, Organisations also need to invest much on prevention of incidents of sexual harassment, because it is more of social evil having its deep root in male dominated society than a workplace or legal issue, by constantly coaching , training and making all aware on do’s and don’ts about such issues. Workplace culture has to be tuned up with zero tolerance about such incidences so that safe and dignified environment is provide to women employees but at the same time it should not be undermined that male colleagues do also have some social existence and dignity. Need to strike a balance between the two is a must. Unless charges of sexual harassment are proved, organisations must hide the identity of the respondent too as mandated by law. Nowhere law permits to disclose the identity of complainants and the respondent. Proceedings are to be held in camera.
3- There is still much confusion among employees and organisations as to what constitutes sexual harassment or sexual abuse. Workplace culture determines the acceptable behaviour to much extent. Employees should be well versed of. IC members are also not fully trained to conduct inquiries in to the complaints of sexual Harassment. The inquiry under POSH law is quite different from the normal domestic inquiry management conduct in disciplinary matters involving acts of misconduct. Organisations should prioritise to get IC members trained in this respect.
4- IC members should act impartially and judiciously. They should not be afraid of any consequences, because IC is discharging the duties by investigating and inquiring in to the charges of complaint mandated by law. IC cannot be accused of abetting the suicide of someone, merely because the committee is inquiring into the matter against him unless deviating from the laid down procedure or acting with bias or their actions or orders indicate abetment to suicide.
5- Women employees should not get discouraged or scared of such unfortunate incident. They should continue to speak up but truthfully and genuinely. Law has given the women a legal arm to guard them against sexual harassment at workplace but it is a double edged weapon. If it is used to malign someone or take revenge or meet self interest, it may harm not only that woman but cast a shadow on other genuine victims at large also.
6- Organisations should not act mechanically in such incidents and overreact just to demonstrate their sensitivity towards such matters. Every complaint should be dealt with same sensitivity and dignity otherwise in long term organisations may have to bear heavy cost in terms of image and employer branding.
7- There are judgments of Supreme Court where it is held that management officers are not to be held responsible for abetment to suicide merely on the note of deceased unless some other material evidence and facts exist and co-relate confirming abetment. However, it depends on facts and circumstances of each case.