Sunday, August 22, 2010

Industry is waking up to the menace of sexual harassment

Industry is waking up to the menace of sexual harassment

22 Aug, 2010, 12.29AM IST, Anirvan Ghosh, Mahima Puri & Neha Dewan,ET Bureau

The recent expulsions of Penguin’s Canada chief executive David Davidar and Hewlett-Packard’s global CEO Mark Hurd brought to focus the grave issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. While globally, there is a definite mechanism followed to counter the menace, corporate policies in Indian companies are now slowly beginning to take shape.

Industry is reinforcing the need for clear and stringent policies to deal with sexual harassment cases. Some of them were the import of globalisation, with foreign companies bringing in the same workplace laws into India for their Indian employees, while some companies introduced them to tune HR policies

At softdrink maker PepsiCo’s India offices, a sexual harassment policy is in place for the last six years now. According to Pavan Bhatia, ED-HR, PepsiCo India, the policy is based as per Supreme Court’s guidelines on sexual harassment. There is also a committee for the issue consisting of 12 senior management executives at Pepsi, in case someone lodges a complaint. The committee appoints at least five members to duly investigate the matter and takes decisions accordingly. Those found guilty can also lose their job at the company. “There are various ways that one can register a complaint. Either one can directly write a mail to the CEO, HR head or the functional head and we also have a Women’s Council, through which one can approach the management,” he says.

Similarly, LG Electronics India has a permanent committee of three females members on sexual harassment. While one representative is from the senior management, the other two are from mid-to-junior levels of management. Every year, the company invites volunteers to join the committee but also adds that it has not faced a situation where their services could be used. At least 25% of the company’s managerial staff are women, while at the manufacturing side, of the 1,500 employees, about 15% are females.

Although Maruti Suzuki claims to have had no instance of sexual harassment in the company for the last 25 years, they have formulated a robust Sexual Harassment Policy which will be announced to the company employees in the coming days. “This policy will comprehensively cover all the aspects of workplace discipline and safeguard employee interests,” says S Y Siddiqui, Managing Executive Officer-Administration (HR, IT, Finance and Corporate) at Maruti Suzuki India.

But despite such punitive measures being taken, there still is a lot of hesitation among victims to bring such cases to the fore. Supreme Court Lawyer Pavan Duggal highlights some concerning statistics. “For every 500 instances of harassment, only 50 get reported and only one gets registered as an FIR. I get many cases a month on this issue, particularly sexual harassment at the workplace, and indeed the number of cases has risen appreciably.”

Duggal recalls a case where some obscene pictures of a female employee were recently posted across the office by none other than her superior. “She first complained to him, having no other recourse, but he himself was the perpetrator. He also kept track of her office mail to know who she was attracted to, and all her personal details. He had no right to do that, and faces three years in jail with a Rs 5 lakh fine. That is, if he gets convicted,” he adds.

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