The Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 commonly referred to as the PoSH Act, mandates employers to constitute an Internal Committee (IC) to address all issues related to sexual harassment at the workplace. Here is a complete guide to help and address all your queries pertaining to formation of an Internal Committee, also commonly referred to PoSH Committee, in your company.
On whom is this mandate applicable?
This mandate is upon the employers of all establishments/organisations/companies with more than ten employees.
What is the objective of constituting an Internal Committee?
The main objective of constituting a Internal committee is to form the primary line of defence in the prevention, prohibiton and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace. The Internal Committee receives, investigates and adjudges upon complaints of sexual harassment.
Is it called the Internal Committee (IC) or Internal Complaints Committee(ICC)?
Initially, when the act was enacted in 2013, it was named as the Internal Complaints Committee(ICC). In 2016, by way of an amendment, the name was changed from Internal Complaints Committee(ICC) to Internal Committee(IC).
Who are the members of the Internal Committee?
As per the Section 4 of the PoSH Act, the Internal Committee shall consist of a minimum of 4 members and at least 50% of the total members shall be women. The members shall include:
One Presiding Officer:
A woman working at a senior level from amongst the employees is nominated as the Presiding Officer. In case of non-availability of such a woman, the Presiding Officer shall be nominated from another office, unit or department of the workplace. The last resort, if no such person is available then the Presiding Officer can be nominated from any other workplace of the same employer.
Two Employee Members (minimum):
There must be at least two members in the committee, nominated from amongst the employees. The criteria for this selection is their dedicated commitment to the cause of women or the legal knowledge or experience they possess in social work.
Although the law prescribes a total of 4 members, experts recommend to increase the internal members and keep the total strength of the committee as an odd number. This avoids deadlocks on the findings of the committee and helps resolve issues using majority factor.
One External Member:
An external member is nominated from amongst the NGOs or associations which are committed to the cause of women, or a person who is familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.
This external member acts as an unbiased third party with a clean slate and no past affiliations with either parties in a complaint. It is pertinent to understand that such an objective point of view is crucial in disposing off sensitive matters relating to sexual harassment where prejudice and political pressure may influence the fair proceedings of the Committee. If the constitution of the Committee is, thus, not in accordance with the Act, the inquiry done by them would be vitiated. The courts have time and again reiterated that if the Internal Committee is formed in contrast to the provisions of Section 4 of the PoSH Act, then the constitution of the committee itself would be illegal.
What are the primary functions of the Internal Committee?
- To receive the complaints and carry out a fair redressal process;
- Maintain confidentiality and protect the identity of the parties to the complaint;
- Provide relief by way of sanctioned leave or relaxation of attendance requirement or transfer of the complainant or offender to another department or supervisor during the pendency of the complaint;
- Ensure that victims or witnesses are not victimised or discriminated against, while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment
- Ensure prohibition of adverse action against anyone involved in the complaint
- Prepare the Annual Report attested by the employer and file with the District Officer.
Should an Internal Committee be constituted at all branches of a company?
An Internal Complaints Committee must be constituted at all administrative units of a company. At every branch of a company, having more than 10 employees, an internal committee is required to be established by law.
The presence of women employees at these branches is irrelevant. This is so because the fact of the matter is clearly stated in law which says that third parties such as contractors, customers, interns and any other woman visiting the premises of a company to file a complaint of sexual harassment which takes place in said workplace.
Is there a prescribed fee that has to be paid to the members of the Internal Committee?
While there is no specified remuneration to the internal members of the Committee prescribed by law, the external member must be duly given a fee for their services in the Committee. Specifically, an allowance of Rs. 200 per day is granted for holding the proceedings of the IC and also the reimbursement of the travel cost.
What is the tenure prescribed for Internal Committee members?
The Presiding Officer along with every other member of the Internal Committee shall hold office for a period not exceeding three years from the date of nomination as member.
Under what circumstances can a member of the Internal Committee be removed?
The Presiding Officer or any other member of the Internal Committee can be removed before the expiry of their term of tenure, on the following grounds:
- they are found guilty in any disciplinary proceedings; or
- found to be abusing their position; or
- convicted of an offence or has pending proceedings; or
- if they disclose any information related to the aggrieved woman, respondent or the witness in a sexual harassment case at the workplace.
What powers are granted to the Internal Committee?
For the purposes of conducting an inquiry, the Internal Committee has been given the powers of a civil court as defined under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. These powers have been granted for:
- gathering evidence, discovery and production of documents;
- summoning and enforcing the attendances of the witnesses and examining them on oath;
- Other matters as required.
Is conducting Capacity Building Programs for the Internal Committee mandatory?
Under the PoSH Act, 2013, conducting orientation sessions for the members in Internal Committee is mandatory. This mandate of ensuring that the Internal Committee undergoes adequate training has been imposed on the employer.
As the subject matter of their jurisdiction is so sensitive, the members of the Internal Committee need proper training and guidance to be best equipped at dealing with matters relating to sexual harassment. Such training/orientation sessions are commonly referred to as PoSH training.
These training sessions primarily focuses on:
- Building Internal Committee members’s capacity to conduct investigations on sexual harassment at workplace complaints;
- Explaining guidelines of procedures, timelines and documentation as per POSH Act, 2013;
- Building Internal Committee processes and systems aligned with larger objectives of the organization.
Since the Internal Committee members are the primary authority for adjudication of such complex issues, regular orientation and training programmes for members of the Internal Committee must be conducted at timely intervals.