The POSH Infringement

The POSH Infringement

Nimit Patel, the Founder of ABC Chemicals and Dyes Pvt Ltd, found himself at the crossroads; irrespective of whatever he chose for the organisation, the end result would only be negative. On one side, he had a feeling of loyalty for an employee, with whom he had worked since a long time, and whose children he had seen growing up, while on the other, it was a question of a woman’s honour, and an organisational value of treating everyone with respect.


As a business leader, he did not want to make a decision that would create an impression that women in his firm were unsafe or were being treated with disrespect. At the same time, he did not want any man to be burdened with an unnecessary charge and pay an undeserving penalty. Even worse, he was concerned about the social shame that the family that was so dear to him would have to bear.  As he flipped the coin to decide whether or not he should file criminal proceedings against his most trusted employee, Shamsher Singh, VP – Operations, his heart was pleading that the coin fall in his favour. He made a silent prayer imploring the coin to somehow flip in a manner that would help him to arrive at the right decision. As he clenched the coin in his fist, he began to recollect some of the mistakes he had made while building this organisation, some sensitivities that he had overlooked, and some clues that he had failed to identify. As he opened his fist, he hoped against hope that the answer would fall in Shamsher’s favour, and the coin would somehow aid him in finding a way through which this crisis could be solved without tarnishing the image of anyone involved.


ABC Chemicals and Dyes Pvt. Ltd.


For Nimit, ABC Chemicals and Dyes was more than a business; it was an expression of his values and of himself. He was now an old man; but in 1966, he was the first engineer from his village Chandasama, Gujarat. After completing his chemical engineering from MS University, Baroda, he had gone to Uganda to gain experience in various industries in chemicals and plastics. In 1972, when Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, he returned to India to set up a manufacturing unit in his own village. He had dreamt of improving the quality of education in his village, develop talent, and thereby, contribute to the economy and the overall development of the village. He had gained wealth and experience from his days in Uganda, and wanted to leverage them to the fullest. During the last 42 years, he had consistently built and delivered on the same values. He had chosen a slow but inclusive growth, keeping the requirements of his village in focus. He had recruited a select group of chemical and mechanical engineers in 1972 to start the ABC Chemicals and Dyes plant. Soon, the business began to grow, and he had to invest a lot more in the plant and the machinery, and also recruit more people. In 2017, there were nearly 300 white‑collared employees and more than 1500 labourers. While a good number of employees were taken on payroll, the others were hired on contract. ABC Chemicals was the largest manufacturing set up in the district, and was well known at the national level as a medium-scale, owner-promoted company, with a reputation for decent dealings and fair employee practices.


Challenges in retention of female talent


Since the plant was situated in a remote location, retaining women employees had always been a problem. While many joined as graduate engineer trainees (nearly 33% at the entry level), only a handful stayed for more than 4-5 years; at the senior management level, the ratio was less than 1%. Marriage often took them to bigger townships where their spouses were employed. Ambitious women in their 30s left because options for career advancement were limited in a small town, and they used ABC Chemicals as their ladder for the next position. Attrition among women employees after childbirth was prevalent, or, when their children entered senior education. A select few married someone from the local community or within the office group and reached the level of General Manager; however, they too left when their children reached critical class levels between 8th and 12th standards. This was the phase where the priority of these women employees shifted from building their career to that of the child. Chandasama had a small school started by Nimit himself, which was good for primary education; but for those aspiring for courses in engineering and medical, Ahmedabad was the preferred destination, and they tended to relocate to that city. In such cases, while the men continued to work with the company, their wives often shifted to cities that offered better facilities in education.


Nimit had never paid any major attention to the fact that more women were moving out from his firm. He had fixated his focus on getting the work done, and as long as their absence did not defer team performance, he chose to remain oblivious. There were no special benefits and policies that enabled women in senior positions to manage their career and personal aspirations. The culture in the organisation was similar to that of any company in a small township. The same groups interacted professionally as well as personally, and there was only a thin boundary between the personal and professional lives. Personal issues of every household were known to all, and people cared and supported each other. Metaphorically, it was like a large extended family living together with different kitchens and living spaces. Even that was often done away with when they had any festivals or “sanjha chulha”[1], which was started by Nimit himself as an employee engagement exercise. Women brought gravies from their homes, and, bread was cooked centrally and shared commonly.


Nimit actively engaged with HR and created a lot of informal interaction to foster these relationships. Everything had been running really smooth. Business was going good, and the people were happy and content. Typically, he hardly ever hired candidates with high aspirations. He looked for candidates who had been brought up in small towns and were not very materialistic. Cost of living was low, and most people chose ABC because it gave them a cozy, comfortable living, and they could save more as they were spending less. Chandasama offered free air, organic food, and fresh vegetables. Though Nimit was not a great paymaster, but the cost of living was low in Chandasama, which helped him retain some members. The company averaged an attrition of 8 percent. Employee relations had never been his concern, until, a 24-year-old woman levelled allegations of sexual harassment against the Vice President‑Operations.


In her complaint, Neha Jani, an Assistant Manager in the Operations department, mentioned that Shamsher Singh, VP – Operations, had called her after her shift duty was over at 6 PM by stating that it was urgent, since a machine demanded immediate attention. When she reached the plant, the labourers were changing shifts, and therefore, there was nobody present. When she arrived at the plant, Mr. Singh had asked, “You seem to be ignoring me a lot, is there something troubling you?” “No sir,” she had replied, adding, “you said there was some problem with the machines, what is the matter?” She had further mentioned that, “In response to which, Mr. Singh held my hand and tried to embrace me…”  “I heard the footsteps of labourers and was quick for the old man and could manhandle him and his overtures and run into the area where the labourers could clearly see me. This had saved me of any major embarrassment, but now, I can’t work with him and I need a posting from the department and a role change,” she had said with finality in her voice. “I don’t want any scenes and any action against him, but clearly I can’t work with him any longer.” She had said.


This was the first time in the last 42 plus years when such a complaint had been reported. The matter was extremely delicate; so far, the only grievances were about differential food rates for contractual workers, wage negotiation, etc. This was surely a sensitive allegation. The manner in which the top management handled this complaint would have further ramifications on other young women also wanting to join the company. In 2013, in accordance with the law, Nimit’s company had drafted a Prevention Of Sexual Harassment (POSH) policy. As per the policy, an internal complaints committee was constituted; but since then, this policy was never revisited, and now hardly anyone from the committee formed erstwhile was even working in the firm. The committee had an external woman member who was a lawyer and an activist with the local NGO. The six internal members were from the HR department, Legal and Operations department, CSR, Admin, and Support and Technology department. Interestingly, VP–Operations, against whom the allegation was made, was married to the GM HR, who was in Ahmedabad for a career improvement programme at the IIM campus. The other people in the committee were those who reported to VP‑Operations, either directly or indirectly. Thus, there was an obvious conflict of interest, which was felt by all. More than anything else, when Nimit critically examined women in senior positions, he had one woman as VP– Strategy, who was on child care leave since her son was appearing in IIT- JEE exams; there was GM–HR, who was married to the accused; and then the next senior most woman was an Assistant Manager. All the other women were in junior positions; there were several in GET, and there were more women in clerical positions. Apparently, there were no senior women who could chair the committee and have an independent voice and influence on this matter.


His fears were that in absence of an internal complaints committee, this complaint could either go to criminal proceedings and an FIR be filed, or it would reach the local complaints committee. Nimit found himself wrangled between a sense of loyalty for the VP–Operations and, at the same time, the need for justice. He had quietly enquired about the matter from a very trusted labourer of that shift; the labourer had agreed that Neha Madam did look flustered, but he saw nothing else. Another friend of Neha also said that while they had never experienced overtures, Mr. Singh had often complained about his ambitious wife and how he was starved for affection, and how his house and child were unattended by the wife. Even Nimit had witnessed that Mr. Singh often got drunk in parties and went home very late. Mr. Singh was often the last one to leave the party and any get together. Nimit was disappointed on how his organisation had failed in maintaining gender balance, and was confused on how to handle the issue at hand as well. He also became aware that as a small firm, he had never prioritised the formal HR processes. He quizzed himself if he had missed some crucial signals and had, therefore, been unable to pre-empt future problems. His people were like a family to him; this incident left him distrusting his own judgement and capability to be a people-centric leader.




Dr Anamika Sinha is Associate Professor, Goa Institute of Management. She is also a freelance trainer and an OD consultant.








Analysis by Rohit Hasteer is the Group CHRO for, Prop and







Ethics, safety and compliance are three aspects that should never be compromised in an organisation at any cost. The case at hand currently deals with two such aspects – ethics and safety. Nimit’s casual approach towards the POSH committee is a matter of deep concern. While it is great to have a family like culture within an organisation, compromising the seriousness of the POSH committee is non-negotiable, as this is a mandatory regulation stipulated by law. Besides, creation and communication of the Internal Complaints Committee within the organisation also gives people, especially women employees, the confidence that the organisation respects and protects their personal space and dignity. To start with, Nimit needs to immediately appoint an external lawyer or hire the services of an NGO and bring the POSH Committee into effect. The GM-HR can be the Presiding officer, who could take a few days off from her education programme in Ahmedabad. Even though she is the wife of Mr. Singh, the defendant, she is duty‑bound to assume the role and act in a fair manner during the trial, since she is the senior lady officer in the organisation. For the committee to function, there must be at least two employees apart from the presiding officer and the external consultant. At least, half the committee members must be women. Having other neutral members on-board shall also ensure that decisions taken by the committee are not biased. Nimit himself should also be a part of the POSH Committee, and assume charge and lead from the front.


Once the committee is in effect, a thorough investigation should be initiated and all the relevant witnesses and evidences related to this case must be made available. The POSH committee should initially speak to Neha Jani and win her confidence, so that she can take this up formally through a written complaint (with evidence if any) to the POSH Committee. Once the written complaint is received, the committee should start its enquiry on the case by meeting all the necessary people who could throw light on the matter, and submit the complaint to the defendant. Mr. Singh, the defendant, should be made to send his response in writing mentioning his view/position on the accusations levelled. Since, Nimit and Singh’s wife are both on the panel of the POSH Committee, and are closely related to the defendant in this case, they should advise him to be honest, and admit if there has been a mistake and mention everything in writing in his response. In case Neha wishes, she can take this up with the police and press criminal charges against him, which is bound to have dire consequences.


It is the duty of the POSH Committee to give a fair hearing to Mr. Singh and operate completely on the basis of facts and evidences. It is important that the POSH Committee meets everyone individually and maintains complete confidentiality in the process of enquiry. Mrs. Singh, the Presiding Officer, will have to play the most important role in such a case. If no evidence is found, the committee can decide that the case does not qualify under POSH and communicate the same to Neha. However, if Mr. Singh is found guilty, the committee is required to act against him, including termination and communicate the same to Neha. Additionally, if Neha is found to be maligning the dignity of Mr. Singh, the committee must take strict action against Neha. While Nimit should lead the enquiry under POSH and arrive at a fair conclusion, he also needs to look at some of the key underlying challenges of gender mix and high attrition among the low female population in his organisation. It is crucial that he look for a long-term solution by creating a women friendly workplace, designing processes and policies that attract and promote women population and give them a good career path. Hiring young women graduates, in the manner in which Nimit has been doing, is a great way to bring in talent diversity that also stays longer with the organisation. He could also look at employing the wives of the labourers by training them with the required skillsets. This could help address the gender-mix issue and make the workers more responsible. Furthermore, he must also have CCTVs installed across the office premises and ensure there is enough communication among people about their safety and rights. A circular communicating the ICC members and constitution of POSH should be put up across the office at multiple places like break-out areas, cafeteria etc. for people to read and so that they are provided with the confidence that the workplace is indeed safe.



Analysis by Pramod Tripathi, Assistant General Manager-HR, Bajaj Energy Limited







In order to maintain a smooth and healthy working atmosphere in an organisation, it is imperative to adopt best practices, policies, standards and also adhere to the prevailing laws to control and take decisions in the face of challenging situations in which people fall into a dilemma. A sustained and engraved composition of an organisation to deal with all the operational activities with reward and reprimand, once it has been established that defilement of rules and ethics by any employee is damaging its reputation and requires review for indispensable changes. In the case of ABC Chemicals and Dyes Ltd, everything seemed to be going well until the complaint of sexual harassment was made by Neha Jani against her supervisor Shamsher Singh. She has sought that her role be changed so that she does not have to report to him. In an organisation started by him 42 years ago, such a complaint was the first of its kind for Nimit Patel. Nimit, on the other hand had nursed a great desire to maintain a healthy combination of male and female employees and work like a family, though retention of the female workforce was something of a challenge in this small town organisation.


Nimit Patel is apprehensive over taking action against Shamsher Singh, since their association goes way back, while on the other hand, he is equally keen to give due justice to Neha and hopefully retain her services. Secondly, he presumed that if the issue is not resolved internally, it would escalate externally and could make way for criminal proceedings which is sure to tarnish the image of the organisation. Therefore, it is best that Nimit re-constitute the POSH committee in consonance with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment policy established in 2013, and set up an enquiry committee to investigate the entire episode of sexual harassment, and take appropriate action against the culprits. Any compromise on the issue of harassment against women is bound to tarnish the image of the company in an otherwise competitive market, and also make the female fraternity sceptical about the work practices of ABC Chemicals and Dyes.


In the said case, firstly, VP-Operations needs to be questioned so that his intent can be gauged for future action. Secondly, there should be a rule that no duty related issue is to be entertained by any female worker beyond her working hours, and, in all cases, she should not be left alone, and a close watch on individuals while on duty and off by way of installing digital cameras in the factory as well as the residential area.


Harassment covers a wide range of offensive or unwanted behaviour that makes the other person uncomfortable. Most often, women become the victims of harassment and the offenders are male. 90% organisations opt for informal resolution of complaints even without formal reporting, and, in a majority of cases, the wrongdoer is warned /advised, thus forcing the distressed woman to quit the job. Many organisations dread holding awareness programmes for their employees since they are apprehensive that it may trigger an increase in complaints. A woman complaining of sexual harassment truly makes room for undue and unfavourable attention to herself, and is singled out and left without friends, which can be harrowing experience. The plight of a woman who undergoes such traumatic experience at the workplace, and yet her complaints remains unaddressed are therefore worth introspecting.


Organisations have to conduct awareness programmes for females and educate them about their rights and privileges at the workplace. Nimit would therefore have to craft a workplace where safety and dignity of women employees is safeguarded, since the workplace is dwindling with the above instance of sexual harassment, and abide by the directives of Supreme Court of India Guidelines on Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) at the workplace. Nimit has to create and enforce a strong HR manual and ensure strict compliance by everyone, irrespective of their level in hierarchy, and send across a strong message that misconduct in any manner would not be tolerated. ABC Chemicals and Dyes should also formulate a policy to overcome attrition of women employees by examining the root cause of their leaving the company, and thereafter, offer incentives such as higher education perks, agreement with top institutions etc. Nimit Patel should further evaluate, emphasize, evolve the existence of gender gap and formulate a policy and sensitize the environment accordingly.



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