CHENNAI: She works towards preventing sexual harassment at the workplace and specialises in setting up governance models, prevention and redressal committees of sexual harassment in the corporate world.
Today, Viji Hari, CEO of Kelp HR, is an author. Launching a fact-based fiction, BCC: Behind Closed Cubicles, she brings out 18 short stories from real incidents…including her personal experiences in harassment. City Express asked her questions that you might want answers to. Excerpts follow…
What should employees be aware of when they are sexually harassed?
Each organisation with more than 10 employees must have a sexual harassment committee consisting of mature men and women from the organisation along with a third party member. Now, you should know that not only office employees but non-staff and clients are also protected under the Act. You don’t have to go the police; all you need to do is send an email to the committee for investigation. The findings and suggestions are given to the highest authority who takes action.
Doesn’t a complaint affect their place and job?
We conducted a survey and 22% were victims of sexual abuse but only 55% of the victims were ready to lodge a complaint. Why? They were scared they might get their name dirty or lose their job. Thus, they want to keep it quiet. But you need to understand that it may wreck your life in other ways and you have a committee that keeps it confidential.
If something as little as a dirty joke can pass off as harassment, how can the friendly vibe be maintained?
A dirty joke, sharing your co-worker’s profile picture, or a strange handshake all are subtle examples of harassment, verbal, non-verbal or physical. There was a case of a woman from a remote village landed a job in Bengaluru corporate company. She was unable to get along with the cultural difference there. Going on dates, socialising over drinks, and casual hugs were not something she was familiar with. Now, harassment is a thin line – uneasiness. If either of the party is uncomfortable about certain something, it’s harassment. She was uneasy while the others were not. So, the job of a company is to create sensitisation so that no one loses an opportunity.
What about office romances?
(laughs) Some organisations encourage office romances. They get married and would want to stick together in the same place and company. How does harassment play a role here? If a person is genuinely interested, we tell them to give the other person subtle signals. Try twice and if he/she does not reciprocate, back off!
What can someone who works in a small organisation do?
The life of a salesperson. For instance, if a third party enters the shop and shouts at the person in foul language, the other employees have the right to throw the customer away.
(‘Behind Closed Cubicles’ is available at Amazon, Flipkart at `200)