Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

SHe-Box can be a game changer

It's early days yet but we believe that the SHe-Box (Sexual Harassment electronic box)will help accelerate compliance by non-compliant companies

In November, the Union ministry of women and child development announced that the SHe-Box (Sexual Harassment electronic box), an online complaint management system for Central government women employees hosted on the ministry website, could also be used by private sector women employees to register complaints.

It’s early days yet but we believe that this will help accelerate compliance by non-compliant companies—large or small.

The form on the portal that requires the complainant to fill in the necessary information asks for the contact details of the head of the organization, as well as the name of the offender. It appears that the ministry intends to follow up on these complaints directly with the heads of companies. Complaints that have already been filed with the internal committee (IC) of these organizations can also be re-routed through this portal.

Until now, feedback on compliance with the prevention of sexual harassment (POSH) law, passed five years ago, has been a mixed bag. The bigger companies have put in place most of the systems and processes required to comply with the law. The small and mid-sized companies have been slower to embrace it. For most of them, there wasn’t any real fear that the government or regulatory authorities would come calling to check on compliance, either because of their relatively smaller size or because they believed that the government wasn’t serious about enforcement. Additionally, budgeting for this was a challenge.

In our experience, this could be observed most commonly in companies with a workforce of 50-500. Multinational company subsidiaries and venture capitalist (VC) funded start-ups were generally exceptions because of the need to comply with global norms or pressure from VCs.

We believe that the SHe-Box will accelerate compliance by non-compliant companies—large or small. Going forward, we will see a flurry of activity, including the setting up of ICs, awareness sessions for employees, ensuring confidentiality, etc. The trend of company managements packing the IC with pliable employees, who were likely to toe their line, is also likely to change.

By setting up a unit dedicated to this task, the ministry has made it clear that it will carefully monitor all the complaints that come in through the SHe-Box. What this could also mean for companies, however, is that even an isolated complaint of sexual harassment that finds its way into the SHe-Box, if mishandled, could potentially invite government scrutiny.

These are some of the questions that remain unanswered:

■ If a harasser is let off with little or no punishment, can the complainant appeal to the ministry via the SHe-box?

■ If so, how will the ministry determine what punishment is appropriate without going into the details of the matter?

■ If it does get into the details, doesn’t it run the risk becoming an extra-judicial body that is performing a role parallel to that of the courts?

■The law already has a mechanism in place whereby an aggrieved party can appeal to a higher court. Going forward, will the ministry, via the SHe-Box, insert itself into this process?

■ Will the POSH law be amended to provide a role for the ministry and the SHe-Box?

For the time being, we see the SHe-Box as being a mechanism through which the ministry will monitor the very basic aspects of a complaint. There is no doubt that it has the potential to be a welcome game changer, with companies, finding themselves under the uncomfortable glare of the ministry, likely to take POSH compliance far more seriously. But since this mechanism does not have legal or regulatory backing, there is a definite concern that it can also become a tool for harassment. The irony is not lost on us.

The writer is CEO of Rainmaker, a compliance training firm. These are his personal views