Labour & EmploymentOthers

Re-Thinking Human Resources (HR) Post-COVID-19: Addressing Cybersecurity Risks and Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Concerns During WFH

By 27/08/2021April 26th, 2022No Comments
prevention of sexual harassment

Cybersecurity Risks and Prevention of Sexual Harassment

The nationwide disruption led to one of the largest Work From Home (“WFH”) experiments in the world thereby making it the new “normal” amidst the pandemic. Since workplaces moved into people’s homes, an uncharted territory for companies to regulate their employees, the bigger question is what exactly constitutes these concerns?

Across the globe, this novel working style has been plagued with issues that largely remain unaddressed such as cybersecurity, work ethics, and sexual harassment at workplaces. This nebulous situation may impact companies in the long run and so organizations are required to make long-term adjustments to adapt working practices and culture until the COVID-19 dust settles. 

Cybersecurity Risks

With every institution shifting to digital space, companies have been steadily witnessing a rise in cyber-attacks, frauds, and crime that can seriously and negatively affect the already ailing business enterprise. With the lack of IT expertise and data security protocols, employees working from home are particularly vulnerable to phishing scams due to human errors and allow hackers easier access to the network’s traffic.

However, proprietary confidential data and information pertaining to businesses are being accessed from such unsecured laptops and desktops, thereby leading to increased exposure to phishing, email scams, and ransomware attacks by cybercriminals. Managers are in dire straits to reassess the legal, technical, and personal dimensions of the cyber-security threats to their data, and proactively evaluate loss prevention processes.

The combination of flawed technology and human errors makes WFH a cybersecurity concern. there is a need to develop good cyber-security habits to reduce associated risks amidst the mass digitization of businesses.

The present data protection regime namely, the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011, fail to protect the individual interest in today’s time thus making it imperative for businesses and employees to strengthen data security protocols and etiquettes.

Using personal email on the laptops/computers authorized by the organization can create data thefts and raise concerns. This is because emails from unknown sources may pose a threat to the data downloaded and transferred from these emails. Therefore, it is mandatory to use only the emails provided by the organization while handling any sensitive data. The workplace should make it mandatory for the employees to either use the systems provided by the organization or one that has been approved by the organization.

All these systems, then, must necessarily have a pre-installed and authentic anti-virus program (either at the cost of the organization or otherwise) to avoid any loss of data or third-party malware to access sensitive data. Thus, stakeholders involved must ensure highly secure working platforms for employees, create awareness of good security habits, conduct due diligence and be vigilant, so as to quick action to salvage any loss.

Preventing Sexual Harassment at Work (From Home)

It goes without saying that employees must adhere to the organization’s code of conduct and sexual harassment policies irrespective of the place of work. This raised a pertinent question – whether the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“POSH Act”) is applicable to harassment occurring through an online platform.

The legislation was enacted as a comprehensive one to provide a safe, secure and enabling environment, free from sexual harassment. Another question that arises is even if the harassment is recognized, are there any legal remedies available to the victims of sexual harassment online while the courts have partially shut down? 

Firstly, Section 2(o) of the Act defines “workplace” in an inclusive and non-exhaustive manner which under its sub-clause (vi) includes ‘a dwelling place or a house. Although, the spirit of the Act refers to the domestic servants and helpers who are employed in a dwelling place or a house when it means that the workplace includes a dwelling place or a house.

However, given the unprecedented situation, and on the application of the literal rule of interpretation, the meaning of workplace shall also encompass Work From Home for most job roles thereby broadening the definition of a workplace from the traditional ‘registered office’ to ‘any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment including their dwelling place or house. 

What accurately consists of sexual harassment online has been defined in section 2(n) of the Act, which is yet another non-exhaustive and inclusive clause defining “sexual harassment”, which deals with the expressed or implied unwelcome acts or behavior demanding or requesting sexual favors, making sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and any other unwelcome verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature, respectively.

This was reiterated in the case of Jahid Ali vs.Union of India & Ors. in 2017, wherein the Delhi High Court considered sexually colored messages over the mobile phone, as sexual harassment of a woman under the POSH Act.  

Finally, how does one tackle the situation? Organizations must maintain the robustness of ethics and rigor on the PoSH agenda to ensure that the value system and execution of policies remain true to intent. Employees must be advised on where to draw the line between work and private life and establish their own liability as employers. The problem arises when the woman has to explain the situation to HR, and virtually it becomes a minefield for them to either risk their employment in an already sensitive environment where people are laid off from their jobs every day.

Government intervention is essential in strengthening the POSH Act when sexual harassment has been pushed down in priorities of companies, who are more focused on rebuilding themselves in a crumbling economy. In the view above, the employer and employee are two sides of the same coin who must sail together during this difficult storm of Covid-19.


Tags: human resources, prevention of sexual harassment, cybersecurity risks, prevention of harassment at workplace, human resource management

Leave a Reply