We recently interviewed the authors of the book ‘Understanding Workplace Laws For Women In India‘- Esha Shekhar and Neha Koshy. The book is a theoretical and practical guide on implementing women-specific workplace laws at different organisations. In the interview, the authors tell us about the idea behind the book, who it would be helpful for and the state of the law in the country today. You could find the book here.
- Can you tell us briefly what this book is about?
NK: This book published by Bloomsbury Professional India is a guide providing a practical and simplified analysis of the labour laws applicable to women at workplaces in India. The book aims to provide a ready for reference understanding of the concepts and procedures of the provisions of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and the various provisions relating to female employees and workers under the new 2020 Labour Codes. The book is also a reference for provisions specific to female employees at shops and establishments under key state-specific shops and establishment legislations and contains a comparative table of the provisions in the erstwhile and parallel changes brought about by the applicable 2020 Labour Codes.
- What prompted you to write this book?
NK: The confusion around the implementation of workplace laws for women and the absence of a consolidated summary on workplace laws for women prompted us to write the book. We wrote this book with the aim to simplify workplace laws for women in India. The objective has been to bring this conversation into the mainstream, rather than be lost in the gamut of general labour law implementation in India.
- Who is the book aimed at? Please tell us how people from different groups will find this book useful.
NK: The book is aimed at in-house lawyers, HR professionals and practising advocates. For in-house lawyers and HR professionals, this book is a guide on the implementation of women-specific workplace laws at their organisation. The book contains practical scenarios and questions that come up during the implementation of these laws for female employees and we have incorporated the same through Frequently Asked Questions and Compliance Checklists for each topic. Labour lawyers and practising advocates can use this book as a referencer for the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and the various provisions relating to female employees and workers under the new 2020 Labour Codes. The book covers detailed sections on case law precedents for POSH Act and maternity benefits updated till 2020.
- What are some interesting discoveries you had while working on the book?
NK: We were surprised with the sheer volume of precedents on the subject of POSH and maternity law. It was a discovery to find out how much the market was in need of a book on this subject and the dearth of literature existing in this area.
- What is your take on the current scenario regarding the implementation of the POSH Act? What are some major hurdles in its implementation? Any recommendations to make it better?
ES: Implementation of the POSH Act in India is still in a nascent stage. The organized sector woke up about the direct and indirect implications of non-compliance with this law when the global #metoo movement entered India. Bigger organizations and MNCs had a higher rate of compliance before 2018. Now, more MSMEs including startups are looking into the implementation of the law.
However, the implementation of the law for the unorganized sector has been practically nil. The implementation here is dependent on setting up Local Committees and conducting awareness sessions at the district level. This has not been done yet in the majority of states in India.
Some of the major hurdles in implementing the POSH Act include the lack of consequences for non-implementation. Even though the law specifies consequences, the lack of an organized process to track non-compliance like other labour compliance laws is a major hurdle in ensuring more organizations set up ICs and comply with POSH Act in general. Many organizations with more than 10 employees still do not have ICs formed and state governments do not have any mechanism to track this. Only Telangana and districts like Noida- Greater Noida have set up online mechanisms to record-setting up of ICs and submission of annual reports by organizations. Central government has set up SHE Box to record non-compliance of the law, but the real change will happen when the state governments start tracking the setting up of ICs in their district so that organizations remain serious about complying with this law.
- What kind of challenges do people working in an online setup face while taking recourse to the POSH Act? Is the POSH Act equipped to deal with online workspaces?
ES: POSH Act is equipped to deal with online workspaces since the definition of ‘workplace’ under law virtual workplaces as well. Therefore, all the online mediums being used by workplaces- be it Zoom, Slack, Google Hangout etc become workspaces. The challenge however has been the lack of communication within organizations to educate team members on maintaining a professional environment while working in an online setup. In online setups, cases have been reported of lewd conversations, inappropriate dressing on zoom calls, persistent and late-night calls on the pretext of work etc. Along with this, most ICs have not been able to transition online due to a lack of effort from organizations. So people who are facing sexual harassment are not sure where and how to report such cases within their own organization. Therefore, it is important for organizations to do 2 things: 1) send regular communications to their team on maintaining professional standards while working online 2) help their ICs to move online and set up ways to let women reach out to ICs and get their complaints redressed.
- Recently, people are also specialising in this area of law. Any word of advice for people wanting to make a career in this field?
There is still a lack of awareness about the workplace laws focused on women. It is important that people specializing in this area of law work towards increasing awareness. Our advice would be to focus on small & medium enterprises and startups within the organized sector who lack advisors to help them understand how to implement such laws at their workplace.
- While all interviews talk about the successes of the interviewees. We also want to show the human side to them. Can you please talk about the challenges which you encountered while writing this book? What were your learnings from these?
There were certainly challenges while writing this book The biggest challenge was adhering to strict timelines from the publisher’s side while also managing our day to day work. It was a great learning experience for both of us to work with the Bloomsbury team and go through the rigours of multiple rounds of edits before the published version was finalized. Since we have covered each law both from the perspective of compliance as well as legal jurisprudence, the research work took time. We are very thankful to two law students- Nipuna Varman (NALSAR, Hyderabad) and Kaainat Pundir (JGLS, Sonipat) who assisted us in researching for the book.
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