You might have seen in Bollywood movies like Aitraaz where the second female lead files a malicious complaint against the male lead in the company just because he rejects her sexual advances. This results in the male lead getting fired from the organisation despite being innocent. You can also find other such movies and stories about false or fake Sexual harassment complaints that completely ruin the careers of innocent men in them.
Although the above scenario is from a movie, it is rapidly becoming the reality of modern corporates. Lately, we have seen a lot of articles and various data reports suggesting that the loopholes present in the PoSH Act 2013 are engendering a plethora of false accusations against the male workforce in organisations. There are many reasons due to which the malicious complaints are filed in corporate organisations. The reasons could be
- To exact revenge against a fellow employee
- Bring down the name of the company
- For having some immediate monetary benefits
- Gain publicity that may help gain sympathy
- Any personal relationship in the workplace gone wrong
- To disparage/blackmail senior executives for getting promotions or other perks
If a man is guilty of a sexual offence in the workplace, then he is liable to be punished under the provisions of the PoSH Act but what if someone maliciously implicates a man in such a case? How he can save his career and reputation from the catastrophic results of such accusations and the repercussions of being called a sexual delinquent? Well, we at Muds are here to help you with your options. Many people are afraid of taking legal help in such cases due to the lack of understanding of PoSH laws and fear of reputational damage. Here we will give you solutions for tackling malicious PoSH complaints and tell you how our legal help can save your reputation and your career.
Understanding the PoSH Act’s Provisions for False Complaints
Section 14 of the PoSH Act 2013 addresses this issue of the false complaint by giving provisions of punishment for complainant. In case the complaint is found to be untrue and filed with malicious intent then, the internal complaints committee can take actions on the complainant. But the punishments prescribed in the act have proven insignificant as the number of false complaints under the PoSH act continues to rise with every passing year. This is where taking legal help can play a big role to save your career and make the complainant pay for the reputational damage and stress they have caused.
Take for example the case of Anita Suresh vs Union of India & Others (W.P (C) 5114/2015) in Delhi High Court. The court found the petition lacking any merit and dismissed the case. It also ordered the complainant to pay Rs. 50000/- for filing a false complaint and granted ESI-Corporation freedom to take strict action against her.
Currently, the main issue with the act is that it is harder to determine whether the complaint was malicious just on the bases of lack of proofs. This leads to many false complainants get away without any punishment even if their accusations prove to be wrong after investigation. So, if you have been a victim of a malicious PoSH complaint, then you must take legal action against the complainant to ensure they won’t leave without facing any consequences.
What You Can Do if Trapped in Malicious PoSH Complaint?
If you are innocent and being framed in any malicious complaint then, you can take the following steps to sail through the process of judgement:
- Keep calm and cooperate with the internal complaints committee that handles cases of sexual harassment of women at workplace. If you are innocent and provide full support to investigating team in their research, then this will work in favour of you to proclaim innocence.
- Section 18 of the PoSH Act 2013 gives the respondent the ‘right to appeal’ against the recommendations or findings of the investigating team of the internal complaints committee. This acts as a deterrent to any false complaints and prevents the misuse of power granted to the internal complaints committee. So, do not refrain from taking any legal help if you feel your case is not being investigated properly or the investigating team is acting with a certain bias towards the complainant. Going with your legal team to show your side of the story is favourable these days as even courts are stricter on the fake PoSH complaints.
- Recollect all the details about the alleged incident and give names of all witnesses to the investigating team to tell your side of the story and prove your innocence.
- Some of the PoSH complaints are made after the break-up of some consensual personal relationship. Your workplace might have the policy to refrain from such relationships but even in that case come out clear in front of the investigating team about your relationship. It could lead to a suspension for both of you, but it will save your career from damage due to offence related to sexual harassment.
- Ensure that your side of the story is clearly heard by the internal complaints committee and all the norms of natural justice are followed by the complaints committee during investigation and hearing.
- If the case seems to be filed as a way of taking revenge by the complainant, then it is wise to request for interim relief from the organisation in form of a leave or temporary transfer to some other department to stay away from any friction with the complainant in the workplace.
- If the allegations are too serious to wait for the outcome of the investigation by internal complaints committee then hire an advocate to look after the case or seek legal help to protect your career and reputation from the damage.
- If there is a possibility of resolving the issue by mutual conciliation without face-off with the other party, then go for it as it will save you from getting into further adversary and mental stress.
- If you feel that you might have done something innocently in the alleged incident and it was unintended and taken in a completely wrong way then explain your side of the story and apologise stating that it was totally harmless from your part. It could happen that you cracked a sexual joke without awareness of any women nearby or made an insensitive comment that could hurt female sentiment. In these cases, a simple apology will go a long way in saving you from the troubles due to PoSH complaint.
- Do not repeatedly try to justify your action or assert that it wasn’t intended as sexual harassment. Instead, accept that whatever you have done may have been interpreted in a wrong way and you will take care that it won’t be repeated.
Effects of Malicious PoSH Complaints on the Accused
Most of the organisation follow the policy of suspending the alleged perpetrator until the investigation by the internal complaints committee is finished for the safety of the victim. Therefore, false sexual harassment complaints can make the situation miserable for any innocent man being implicated for such offence. It brings mental stress, financial problems, and social humiliation for the accused until the time investigation is underway according to internal complaints committee guidelines. Being labelled a sexual offender for no reason proves immensely hurtful and could lead to the person taking extreme steps to get away from the trouble.
A recent example of this was the suicide of a Senior Employee in Genpact in December 2018. The employee committed suicide after a complaint was filed against him in the POSH committee of the organisation. While the sexual harassment committee was still investigating the offence, the respondent under scanner committed suicide and denied the allegations labelled against him in his suicide note.
This case has led many thinkers to question the repercussions of false complaints in the PoSH Act 2013. Many people do not possess the courage to fight against these false allegations and could succumb to the mental stress and public humiliation that follows. Sometimes the investigations could take a substantial amount of time for completion and the alleged employee must bear with the image of a sexual offender. All this takes a huge toll on the mind of any innocent man who has fallen prey to any fake complaint made against him due to any reason. This also proves to be hurtful for the family of the concerned person as they are constantly under the judgmental eyes of society. To save the innocent from all these unnecessary problems the companies can take various steps to stop false complaints. In the following sections, we will discuss such steps and discuss how as an individual you can save yourself if you are trapped in any such case.
Problems Faced by Companies in Dealing with False Complaints
The main issue most of the companies face in any case related to PoSH law is the temporary loss of productive resources. Suspending the accuser or anyone with malicious complaints leads to the loss of valuable resources for the employer until the investigation is finished. Also, it requires the organisation to invest a significant amount of capital and work hours in research related to such cases. Therefore, it is deemed necessary for the organisations to set deterrents to avoid filing of false complaints with the PoSH committee. Before we move further and discuss what are the deterrents organisations take to stop malicious complaint filing, let us understand the effects these complaints have on the accused.
What Deterrents Corporate Organisations Need to Apply for False PoSH Complaints?
- Spread Awareness: Most of the time the complainants are not aware of the PoSH laws and the implications of any false complaint filed with the internal complaints committee. This is where the tool of awareness can come handy. The employers must create awareness amongst its employees regarding internal complaints committee guidelines, the consequences of filing a malicious complaint, and provisions of appeal against internal complaints committee decisions. Before a complaint is filed, the employee needs to be made aware of the consequences of filing a false complaint. Employees should be properly trained regarding the difference between unproven complaints and complaints which fall under the category of malicious.
- Organise Training Sessions for Members of ICC: The POSH Act read with applicable rules clearly specify that the employer must ensure and make provisions for conducting orientation programs and seminars for the members of the ICC. Organising capacity building and skill-building programs for the members of the ICC will ensure that there is a well-trained and skilled committee of members in place who are well informed about the subject matter. A well-trained and skilled internal complaints committee shall be able to adjudicate the complaints more efficiently and shall be able to decide on the complaints effectively after considering and analysing the situation and the facts along with pieces of evidence placed before them. There is no doubt that dealing with workplace sexual harassment complaints is often complex, that is the reason, the POSH Act, itself acknowledges the importance of having a committee in place which possesses critical skills/capacity to effectively carry out their roles.
- Use Informal Communication Methods to Resolve Conflicts: Many a time there is a misunderstanding between the parties, and intent of the accused gets misconstrued differently to the complainant. To prevent such situations, the POSH Act mandatorily requires the ICC to explore the possibility of conciliation between the parties before initiating an inquiry and at the request of the aggrieved woman take steps to settle the matter between her and the respondent through conciliation, provided the basis for such proceedings are not a monetary settlement.
- Follow Principals of Natural Justice and Keep the Panel Unbiased: The legislation intends to ensure that no party should be condemned unheard, the POSH Act specifically states that the ICC should follow the principles of natural justice while conducting the inquiry into the complaint which means that the respondent should be given reasonable opportunity to present his case. Once the complaint is filed, a copy of the complaint along with the documentation filed with the complaint is required to be shared with the respondent within 7 days from the date of receipt of the Complaint. Respondent gets a reasonable time and opportunity to reply to the accusations and plead his case with the evidence and witnesses from his end. The POSH Act provides for one external member to be part of the ICC. This external member could be from any non-governmental organisations or associations related to the cause of women or any other notable person familiar with the issues related to sexual harassment at the workplace. Such expertise will greatly benefit the ICC in terms of fair and impartial handling of the complaint leading to rational order. One of the very basic objectives to involve an external member is to ensure that the parties to the complaint can be self-assured that the internal dynamics or management of the workplace shall not be having any effect on the working of the external member.
- Applying Essential Service Rules and Giving Provisions of Appeal: Applicability of the service rules to the POSH Act in terms of penalising the complainant on the filing of the false complaint clearly shows that it is treated as misconduct under the service rules applicable to the employees of the organisation. This generates a significant deterrent in the filing of false complaints, as the penalty could be in the form of suspension, demotion, and even termination of employment. One of the significant mechanisms to prevent abuse of the process of law is the appeal provision enunciated in Section 18 of the POSH Act. The respondent has the ‘right to appeal’ under section 18 of the POSH Act read with applicable service rules in case the respondent is not satisfied with the recommendations/findings arrived at in the complaint by the ICC. The appeal can be preferred within ninety days from the date of recommendation.
- Ensure That the Deterrents Send the Right Massage: Setting a deterrent for false complaints does not imply that the organisation is unwilling to take any issue of sexual harassment. Any employee facing sexual harassment should not feel apprehensive of filing complaints because of the deterrent as it will nullify the basic essence of the PoSH Act. Employees must be encouraged to bring into notice anything undesirable or uncomfortable for them. The goal of these deterrents is to prevent the misuse of the provisions in the sexual harassment policy of PoSH law which is designed to make women feel safe at the workplace. Therefore, organisations should avoid setting deterrence by using the example of somebody who was punished for filing a malicious complaint. Employers should have access to all the effective measures that can be taken against sexual harassment with a clear knowledge of whether the complaint is true and what will be the implications of filing a malicious complaint.
Like we saw examples of how courts are getting stricter on malicious complaints under the PoSH act, we at Muds would like to assure anyone looking for guidance on how to deal with false complaints. The Anita Suresh’s judgement of the Delhi high court has paved the way for government and corporates to think deeply on handling the malicious complaint of sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The numerous cases of sexual harassment which prove to be untrue also bring into light the misuse of the PoSH act to settle personal vendetta against any men.
With this favourable judgement, we must think that the need of the hour is to be sensitive towards such cases of harassment and do not start shaming the man right away as it could prove fatal to him if he is innocent. The society and the sexual harassment complaints committee of the corporates cannot be biased mentally with the conceived notions of ‘men are always wrong, and women never lie in such scenarios. Our laws should ensure that a wronged woman must get justice but should also ensure that any innocent man doesn’t get wronged in the judicial process.
Our principles of social justice and socialism should not get extreme up to the point that they become a weapon of misuse for vested interests or ulterior motives. A right balance must be struck in the provisions of this law that ensures that the innocent is not punished and the guilty never gets away without punishment. If we can do it in the coming years, we will be able to create a safe and happy workplace environment for women and men.
How Muds Can Help You Legally?
Muds Management is a consulting firm that specialises in PoSH Act and can help you if you are dealing with a malicious PoSH complaint. We provide complete legal support to our clients for proving their innocence and ask for compensations for the damage done to their reputation and career. We also work with corporates to create awareness among their workforce about PoSH Act 2013 via Offline and Online Training. We also help corporates in the management of sexual harassment policies like
- training of the members of their internal complaints committee
- assistance in preparing statutory records and filings
- Creating a Healthy and harassment-free environment to Work
- E-learning modules for PoSH training covering all aspects of the Act in a lucid manner for all employees to understand.
You can contact our legal experts on +91 9599672352 to get a free consultation about PoSH compliance or any legal help with complaints or cases.