Employing women gig workers? Make sure your sexual harassment policies protect them
The gig economy gives employees the freedom to work as per their schedule, and even choose their employers, and this independence in functioning encourages participation of women who are bound by myriad shackles preventing them from becoming part of the regular workforce and earning.
Currently there are close to 15 million gig workers in India but women constitute less than 30 percent of them.
Therefore, Nadiya Sarguroh, Principal Associate and Drishti Singh, Senior Associate at law firm MZM Legal LLP, stress the need to protect and safeguard the interests of gig women workers in order to motivate and encourage them, particularly in freedom from sexual harassment.
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Sarguroh and Singh discuss the various challenges in protection of women gig workers from workplace sexual harassment, applicability of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) at Workplace Act to women gig workers and how stakeholders can frame appropriate sexual harassment policies for them.
What is employers' responsibility vis-a-vis protection from sexual harassment for women gig workers?
The POSH Act is applicable to every woman at a workplace, irrespective of their status of employment, and clearly establishes the responsibility of protection of women at workplace on the employers in chapter IV, which defines the duties of the employer.
The employer is responsible for providing a safe working environment at the workplace, to display - at any conspicuous place in the workplace - the penal consequences of sexual harassment, and constitute the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).
They also have organise workshops and awareness programmes to sensitise the employees with the provisions of the Act, assist and facilitate the inquiry by the ICC, treat sexual harassment as a serious misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for such misconduct, and lastly monitor the timely submission of reports by the ICC and reporting the number of cases in the audited financials of the company.
What are challenges in protection of women gig workers from workplace sexual harassment? Is POSH Act applicable?
The POSH Act has a very broad applicability and squarely covers every woman worker, whether employed or not. Emphasis is laid on the words defining an “aggrieved woman” under the act which means in relation to a workplace, a woman, of any age whether employed or not, who alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment by the accused.
As such, the POSH Act is applicable irrespective of whether the woman is employed or not. Therefore, the POSH Act is applicable to gig women workers.
However, not many employers are well versed with the provisions of the Act and the rules framed thereunder thereby excluding women who are not employed or are ex-employees of the employer from the policy drafted by them. Many employers do not even have an ICC set up leaving the women in a lurch and forcing them to continue living in a pre-POSH era.
Further, the greatest challenge is that women workers are yet not motivated enough to lodge complaints and exercise their right under the POSH Act.
What should a good policy against sexual offenders, particularly for gig workers, look like?
Stakeholders need to take the duties of an employer under the POSH Act seriously, since contravention of the provisions of the POSH Act may lead to cancellation of license or registration of the workplace leading to a shut down of their businesses.
A good POSH policy is the one which involves three Cs: Careful Curation, Compassion and Commitment.
A good policy should have the following key essentials:
- A wider purpose covering the applicability to every women in the establishment whether employed or not. This should essentially also focus on gig workers, apprentices and female clients.
- Clear and broad description of sexualhHarassment, with instances if required.
- Correct Constitution of the ICC as per requirements of the Act.
- Clear and well-defined process for lodging a complaint.
- Clear and well-defined powers of the ICC and conduct of the inquiry
- Specified timeline of the ICC for completion of the inquiry.
- Provision of interim reliefs to an aggrieved woman employee.
- Confidentially of the aggrieved women accused and witness .
- Penalties and actions against violators of the policy.