INDIA FAQs on Effective Handling of Workplace Harassment

By Nandini Kantharaj Jun 13, 2017
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What constitutes workplace harassment and workplace violence?

Workplace harassment &violence encompasses workplace behavior by supervisors, co-workers or third parties that is unwelcome, offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening to an individual or a group of individuals. It also includes amongst other behaviors, verbal abuse, display of violent images, angry outbursts, encroachment on the personal space of others and destruction of property.

Workplace harassment & violence covers

  1. Persistent singling out of one person
  2. Shouting, raising voice at an individual in public and/or in private
  3. Using verbal or obscene gestures
  4. Not allowing the person to speak or express him/herself (i.e., ignoring or interrupting).
  5. Personal insults and use of offensive nicknames
  6. Public humiliation in any form
  7. Constant criticism on matters unrelated or minimally related to the person's job performance or description
  8. Ignoring/interrupting an individual at meetings
  9. Public reprimands
  10. Repeatedly accusing someone of errors which cannot be documented
  11. Deliberately interfering with mail and other communications
  12. Spreading rumors and gossip regarding individuals
  13. Encouraging others to disregard a supervisor's instructions
  14. Manipulating the ability of someone to do their work (e.g.over-loading, under-loading, withholding information, setting meaningless tasks, setting unreasonable deadlines, giving deliberately ambiguous instructions)
  15. Inflicting menial tasks not in keeping with the normal responsibilities of the job
  16. Taking credit for another person's ideas
  17. Refusing reasonable requests for leave in the absence of work-related reasons not to grant leave
  18. Deliberately excluding an individual or isolating them from work-related activities (meetings etc.)
  19. Unwanted physical contact, physical abuse or threats of abuse to an individual or an individual's property (defacing or marking up property)
  20. Causing physical injury to another person;
  21. Making threatening remarks;
  22. Aggressive or hostile behavior that creates a reasonable fear of injury to another person or subjects another individual to emotional distress;
  23. Intentionally damaging employer property or property of another employee;
  24. Possession of a weapon while on company property or while on company business;
  25. Committing acts motivated by, or related to, sexual harassment or domestic violence.

What are the relevant Indian laws applicable for harassment and violence in the workplace?

  • Misconducts under the Standing Orders.
  • If specific acts not listed as misconduct under standing orders, clause pertaining to act subversive of discipline and good behavior on the premises of the establishment
  • Unfair labour practice under Industrial Disputes Act 1947
  • Relevant Provision of Indian Penal Code - 1860

What is the process to be followed when investigating harassment at workplace?

Investigating complaints of harassment is a critical component of a prevention program and of particular concern since a flawed investigation can result in legal exposure. However, regulatory instructions are vague and courts take a case-by-case approach to evaluating sufficiency. Major points to consider in effective complaint investigation include:

  • Timeliness, including promptly initiating the investigation after an incident is reported or observed and reasonable completion and reporting of the results to appropriate parties.
  • Objectivity and credibility, which require an impartial investigation by a trained neutral party, the belief of employees that all complaints are properly investigated and appropriate corrective action taken when violations are found.
  • Thoroughness, accuracy and documentation of the findings and corrective actions taken based on balanced conclusions consistent with material on records during the investigation.
  • Closure, including reporting findings to appropriate officials, correcting violations and following up with both complaining employees and alleged harassers to assure their understanding of future expectations, and prevention of recurrence.

What steps should an employer follow to take disciplinary action on an employee?

Organizations normally follow a progressive disciplinary action approach in managing a situation related to undesired behavior in the workplace. They use the provisions of applicable Standing Orders which enumerate the procedure to investigate and deal with employee misconduct.

It is important that the employer should take swift action whenever any formal or informal complaint about any undesirable act is received. Swift action helps in the right investigations, gathering evidence and witnesses, and most importantly enhances the credibility of the organisation internally as well as externally. Since every disciplinary action needs to be legally tenable, it should be compliant with the provisions of law as well as principles of natural justice. The process should not only be fair but also be perceived as fair.

We have a detailed step-by-step process guide (link provided below) which provides specific information for each of the steps.

  • Step 1: Conduct Preliminary enquiry
  • Step 2: Issue Charge-sheet
  • Step 3: Suspension pending enquiry
  • Step 4: Constitute Domestic Enquiry
  • Step 5: Enquiry Report
  • Step 6: Decide Punishment
  • Step 7: Issue Final Show Cause Notice
  • Step 8: Awarding punishment
  • Step 9: Appeal Procedure
  • Step 10: Seek Approval for punishment (if required)

What steps can an employer/HR take to make the workplace free of harassment?

  • HR professionals are on the front line of preventing unlawful workplace harassment. They must be on alert to stop harassment when they see it first hand or hear about it second hand.
  • Educate supervisors to likewise spot and stop unlawful workplace harassment.
  • HR professionals must recognize that every employee complaint about being "harassed" by a supervisor or subject to a "hostile working environment" does not rise to the level of illegal workplace harassment.
  •  HR professionals must recognize that employee complaints of any sort must be taken seriously for purposes of changes in organizational policy in a multitude of ways.
  • HR professionals can routinely monitor organizational communications for transmission of pornography, obscenities and threats.
  • Promulgate anti-harassment policies and communicate them to employees.
  • Policy and complaint procedure also may be communicated by:
    • Including it in all employee handbooks.
    • Posting it on employee bulletin boards.
    • Reinforcing it through harassment sensitivity and prevention training.
    • Publishing it on the employer's intranet.
    • Publishing it on memos or paycheck stuffers.
    • Discussing it in management meetings and written guidelines for managers.
    • Discussing it in work group or all-hands meetings.

Since Industrial Relations solutions would differ widely based on the specific circumstances of the case and the policies of the organisation, these responses are intended to provide general information, and are not a substitute for legal advice. You are advised to consult your legal /professional advisors and discuss the facts and circumstances that may apply to your particular situation, before taking any decisions or implementing any change.

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