With all of us getting accustomed to the new normal for work, the IC Members have familiarised themselves in conducting POSH Inquiries remotely as well. This new process has led to several challenges and it has also enabled the IC Members to overcome these and come out with a foolproof mechanism. No two inquiries are alike. Though a few facts may be similar, the facts and circumstances, evidences and other nuances are definitely different from one another. And important to mention – IC is dealing with two and more different set of personalities! Dealing with people is an art, could be a challenge as well. Hence, the IC Members always have a new issue to deal with.
The first part of our series on conducting POSH Inquiries is – How do we deal with Anonymous Complaints?
It is possible that due to the fear of the Respondent occupying a higher or an influential position, an aggrieved woman may hesitate to reach out to the IC or the HR to raise a complaint against the harassment meted out to her. Though the Company may have a strong policy on Anti retaliation, the question that arises is- whether the message of anti-retaliation in cases of POSH has reached the very last employee of the Organization? Whether the IC has enough visibility amongst its employees? If the answer is in the affirmative, despite all this, are employees still in their own shell and refuse to report the incidents and continue to bear the brunt? If at all any employee wishes to write to the IC or to the HR or the Management citing anonymity, should the IC still entertain the Complaint? If yes, what is the starting point to start the inquiry, as the IC Members/ Management is unaware of the identity of the Complainant?
The proper approach is that if there is some lead as to the department to which the Complainant belongs, an investigation be conducted by the appropriate authorities to identify the Complainant or a skip level meeting can be conducted in order to identify the aggrieved woman and talk to her and convince her to raise a complaint by providing her the necessary information and support in conducting POSH inquiries. One thing to keep in mind is that IC should not conduct the initial investigation, but a separate body must be tasked with this. Upon receipt of a written complaint, the IC should commence its inquiry. The law also provides for three (03) months additional leave to the aggrieved woman in case the Complainant is unable to face the Respondent at work, etc. What if the investigation does not lead to the complaint? Or what if the anonymous complaint was aimed at maligning the character of the Respondent? Just basis an anonymous complaint, can the IC initiate an inquiry, will it be unfair to the Respondent? These are all tricky questions which can be addressed based on the facts and circumstances of each case and cannot forcefully fit in a straitjacket formula. The thumb rule is that there should not be any deviation from adherence to the principles of natural justice. That is the entire premise on which the inquiries should be conducted.