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TOUCHY ISSUE
December 22, 2012 COMMENT comment
     
TOUCHY ISSUE
By AvniMehrotra
 
 
Priya Garg (name changed on request) was just 20 when she got her dream job at a leading advertising agency in India. A recent graduate, this was her first job. Everything was fine until one day when she started getting late-night calls and her superboss' attitude became 'overfriendly'. Since it was her first job she was unsure of what that meant. Perhaps, he was only trying to help her by being friendly, she thought. However, things began to get awkward and eventually Priya decided to draw a line from her side. Obviously, this did not go down too well with the senior; he started finding flaws in everything she did. She was neither being trained nor was her work being supervised, like the other graduates. Further, she was forced to spend late nights in office. Considering it unsafe especially in a city like Delhi, she refused to stay back. Consequently, the senior employee filed a complaint against her for 'repeated mistakes' and 'inappropriate behaviour' and convinced the HR to terminate her from the organisation with immediate effect, without even letting her serve a notice period.
 
This could well be one of the many detestable cases we hear about harassment at workplace. Counsellor Meetika Chawla Seth says, "In this case I feel Priya also made an error in judgement. She didn't understand the difference between friendship and flirting.
 
She should have not only avoided his latenight calls but also immediately approached the HR for his repeated behaviour. However, terminating a recent graduate on repeated mistakes without even documenting the issue is unfair. She should have raised her voice immediately and could have even approached higher management, not just the HR." Seth further apprises that in case the issue escalates and the employer refuses to do anything against it, there is a law at aid now. As per the recently passed Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, women are now entitled to take legal action against their employers if the issue is not addressed.
 
A lot of women don't wish to speak up to avoid creating a fuss. "The best way here would be to simply confront the man at a personal level and tell him that you will not tolerate such behaviour. Always remember a woman's body language speaks a lot.
 
In any conversation she always has an upper hand. Moreover, consciously or unconsciously, every man is aware about what he is doing.A glare, a cold shoulder or strong defiance towards his behaviour can also work," says counsellor Ruchi Chauhan. "Moreover, by not snubbing him off earlier, you are in a way giving him a sign of approval. By not discouraging his initial advances like flirting and casual touching, a man may even
consider you to be easily approachable for any further step."
 
Recounts PR professional Mukta Sinha (name changed on request), "A couple of days back my best friend told me that because I was over-friendly with every man, allowed hugging and casual touching, he thought I was 'easy'. It was later that he realised it was my general attitude. But that comment made me change my entire attitude."
 
Does that mean you shouldn't be friends with men and not socialise with them? Meetika totally disagrees with this but advises women to draw the line between that professional and personal relationship. She explains, "Being friendly and cordial is completely advisable, but be cautious while you are out for office events and parties. Make sure if you are drinking, you have someone to drop you home and have the correct people on your speed dial. Always remember, the office is your workplace and demands certain decorum. Have fun with your trusted set of friends but make sure you maintain a certain amount of poise and dignity to keep professional ethics intact."
 
Jharna, HR executive of a manufacturing firm, shares a case with us when a very senior employee's behaviour of using foul language and being over-touchy with women became intolerable. At first, a lot of women didn't say anything fearing his power and position, but after he behaved very inappropriately with an employee, she as the HR executive along with other female employees complained to the MD of the company. After proper investigation, the man was found guilty and ultimately terminated from the company.
 
"Any HR worth his or her salt will definitely take immediate action in such a case. There are several ways of dealing with the issue like a formal discussion can be held, the lady's seat or team can be changed among many other steps that every HR employee is entitled to take to help the employee. But if you feel the HR executive is being partial due to any reason, you can escalate the issue not just to the management but even to the court," suggests Jharna. Seth sums it up and advises women to stand for themselves and take immediate step against any man who gets too close for comfort. "All employees, especially new joinees, should be apprised with the law their company has for cases like these. There is no reason to treat it as taboo or be scared of anyone. Have a confidant who can stand by you in such situations. Dress appropriately and learn to stay friendly and cordial with your male colleagues while maintaining the professional decorum. And most importantly, learn to present yourself with dignity and grace. Remember, no one can ill-treat you, unless you allow them to do so," she adds.
 
 
TIPS TO PREVENT SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Maintain a Professional image
Be confident
Speak up
Get high-level management support
Know the company policy on the subject

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