Sexual harassment complaints are often allied by the fear of losing one’s job, retribution or a potential embarrassment that could result from the situation. In light of this, the importance of creating awareness and building a comfortable culture has already been discussed in the previous article. The other highlight of the webinar facilitated by KelpHR and People Matters was about maintaining confidentiality and how it is key for the Internal Committee (IC) to function.
In all cases, it is important to maintain both victim and witnesses’ confidentiality till proven guilty and sometimes even beyond. This article will outline some of the key insights on this topic from the webinar.
How to ensure confidentiality:
1) Sign non-disclosure agreement: Every IC member has to sign the NDA and has to declare that no information will be shared with them, even with their bosses. While it is a very common trend that the information is shared with the bosses of the IC members like the CEO, the owner or a board member, it is important to ensure that no information is leaked outside the committee.
2) Levy fine for breach of confidentiality: In order to enforce confidentiality, some companies levy fine on people who leak or breach confidentiality. There have been cases where fine up to Rs. 5,000 have been levied.
3) Create awareness: It is the duty of the IC member and the HR to create awareness about the consequences of a breach of confidentiality. It is important to ensure that this information is mentioned in code of business conduct and various organizational documents
Besides confidentiality of the victim, the identity of the witness is another aspect which needs to be taken care of. Whether the IC can give away the identity of the witness or not is completely an organizational decision and cases have to be protected on a need to know basis. It should be given away only when required.
How should IC members handle an impending case:
The role of the IC member is not limited to handling complains but also extends to preventing such cases to occur. If as an IC member, one notices a probable case which has been happening in a particular department or they observe that there is a victim who is not willing to raise a complaint they can take up the matter.
In case there is enough evidence to support a case, an IC member should step down from the committee and take cognizance of an impending issue. They can issue a Suo-moto complaint on the employees’ behalf. Again, this should be included as part of the policy and communicated clearly.
How to handle Anonymous complaints:
Anonymous complaints can be of two types:
1) The first type is a complaint which is vague and missing details of the source and the perpetrator, making it difficult to take any action.
2) The second type is an anonymous complaint that has all the details, evidence and witness. These complaints should not be ignored. In order to maintain the anonymity of the complaint, Organizations can introduce a complaint box or suggestion box for employees to drop anonymous complaints. This is because there may be times when an employee might not be willing or able to talk to the Internal Committee directly. This will ensure that no sensitive cases are missed and preventive measures are taken, providing a safe workplace.
Clearly, the IC members have a significant role to play, therefore their training is essential. They must be aware of the importance of their role and should know how to mitigate, document and write the reports.
(This article is curated from the webinar organized by People Matters & KelpHR on ‘Demystifying Prevention of Sexual Harassment at work’)