Why prevention of sexual harassment in the workplaces is more than a compliance issue?

By Prerna G. Chatterjee

More than 75 percent (approximately 2 billion) women aged 18 years and above have experienced sexual harassment. In India, based on data available, it is around 70 percent[1]. Although, the actual numbers could be much higher because a large number of cases go unreported every year.

But why does this number matter? Because, there is a cost attached with sexual harassment.

In 2018, The Australian Human Rights Commission[2] undertook a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces to calculate the economic cost of sexual harassment at the workplace. This was also the first study that calculated the costs such as short term absence from work, reduced productivity while at work, increased staff turnover, and the opportunity cost of manager time responding to complaints.

Some of the findings include:

  • In 2018, workplace sexual harassment cost $2.6 billion in lost productivity and $0.9 billion in other financial costs.
  • Each case of harassment represents around 4 working days of lost output.
  • Lost wellbeing for victims was an additional $250m, or nearly $5000 per victim on average.

Source: Deloitte Access Economics analysis.

In India, the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 (POSH Act) came into force in December 2013. The Act is binding to all establishment and workplaces, irrespective of its nature, that employs 10 and more than 10 employees (it covers full time, part time, contractual, interns, paid or unpaid).

Yet, despite legal implications, a recent survey showed that close to 23 percent companies have not fully complied with the law[3]. It has also been observed that even in organisations where policies are in place, most women do not come forward to file the complaint because many don’t know how to prove the allegations due to lack of any evidence. Many still don’t know the recourse that is available to them under the law. Fear of retaliation and increasing job losses also add to the fear and often choose to remain quiet and in many cases, they drop out of the workplace.

Instances of virtual sexual harassment also saw a five fold increase during the lockdown[4], which has further alienated, women from the workforce. However, notwithstanding the fact that the cases of sexual harassment are disproportionally higher for women, there have been instances where men have been sexually harassed at work. Even though we do not know how many men in India face sexual harassment due to non-existent data, according to the data by US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)[5], sexual harassment complaints filed by men constituted about 16.8 percent in the year 2020. When it comes to persons from LGBTQ+ community, the data is further skewed.

Although compliance with POSH Act is mandatory for the organisation, creating safe and inclusive workplaces should be more than just a compliance issue. There is enough data to substantiate that safe and inclusive teams and workplaces have shown better performance, decision-making and productivity compared to their peers.

Therefore, journey to a safe and inclusive workplace can start with:

  • Having a robust gender neutral POSH policy that also covers examples of virtual sexual harassment as well as work from home scenarios.
  • Conducting awareness sessions for all employees (regardless of the employment status) that covers in-depth understanding of sexual harassment (including virtual); discussions on power and consent; what is considered as a ‘workplace’; their rights under the law; and recourse that is available to them in case they want to file a complaint.
  • Ensuring that the Internal Committee members are trained regularly so that they are equipped to conduct fair and impartial inquiry, both virtually and face to face.
  • Ensuring that your employees know whom to reach out in case they want to file a complaint, by putting posters and notices at conspicuous places.

In a nutshell, it is imperative that employers ensure that their zero-tolerance policy is followed both in letter and in spirit for a healthier and a happier workplace.

Prerna G. Chatterjee is a POSH Consultant and a Trainer. In a career spanning 18+ years, Prerna has worked in multiple sectors including advertising, outdoor education and development sector. She has been a part of many qualitative research studies, which were largely centered on elementary education with special focus on gender and equity related issues. She has co-authored a book, ‘Getting the right teachers into the right school – Managing India’s teacher workforce’ (2018), which was published by the World Bank. She has been working as a POSH Consultant and Advisor since 2015. Her work includes supporting organisations to comply with POSH requirements as mandated by the Act and conduct training for Internal Committee members as well as employee awareness sessions. She is currently the State Vice President of Maharashtra Anti Sexual Harassment Council, WICCI (Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry).


[1] http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/sexual-harassment-least-2-billion-women/

[2]https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/economics/articles/economic-costs-sexual-harassment-workplace.html

[3] https://www.peoplematters.in/article/life-at-work/23-of-organizations-are-not-fully-compliant-with-the-posh-act-kelphr-18664

[4] https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/after-covid-cases-of-online-harassment-spiked-by-5-times-7137386/

[5] https://www.eeoc.gov/statistics/charges-alleging-sex-based-harassment-charges-filed-eeoc-fy-2010-fy-2020

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