Sairekha Sureshkumar, who works with Cohere Consultants, is providing free consultancy for the month of December on the POSH Act.
By Vanasri Sridhar | Opening Doorz Editorial | December 04, 2021
Sairekha Sureshkumar is a lawyer with 15 years of legal experience in corporate law. She heads the Mumbai Practice of Cohere Consultants, a boutique practice that specializes in workplace sexual harassment, diversity, equity and inclusion. She is also an external member of the POSH Committee (Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the workplace) and helps bring justice to the victim with her sharp legal sense. Sairekha who has conducted over 300 webinars and addressed over 100 cases of sexual harassment has decided to go pro bono for December.
Opening Doorz caught up with the lawyer to understand better her practice and why she is offering her services free of cost. If you have any questions about how to address harassment in the hybrid workplace, schedule an appointment for your complimentary consultation with Sairekha on 9004091928.
What prompted you to do free consultations?
The idea for this free consultation for this month is to encourage people to reach out for help and to help them seek knowledge. A lot many people are still apprehensive. Through this approach, I want to give back to society and at the same time create awareness and empower people to seek justice.
What made you decide you wanted to carry out webinars and sessions on POSH?
I head the Cohere Consultants in Mumbai, so as an organization, this is something we do professionally. The services we offer are that we sit in the panel of the Internal Committee as external members, and we advise companies on how to go about things. Last year, we accustomed ourselves to the term ‘Work from home’. A lot of questions were arising regarding how it would work in the virtual world. People were getting confused on how to be heard out or what was the code of conduct in an online mode of work. Though corporates hire people like lawyers, HR, there is no one to talk to specifically about these topics. I began the “Ask me Anything” campaign where instead of a consultation, I would just have a chat.
The majority of the corporate is working from home; given this scenario, do you think online sexual harassment is increasing or decreasing?
It stayed and it changed. When people would go to work in person, they would say stuff but still, somehow it would come back to online harassment in some way or the other. Nowadays, work itself is on Zoom and people have many ways to talk to each other online. Even apps like LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook etc have a messenger. Sexual harassment is unfortunately driven by desire. People do not have etiquette nowadays. The instincts the motivation to harass was always there… it’s just that the medium has changed.
You have 15 years of legal experience, which was the toughest case you have ever come across?
I don’t want it to sound like a cliché, but every case is challenging. The nature of this work is like “Oh I have seen this before, but I haven’t”. It’s life-changing and if you are testifying against someone, you have to be 700 per cent sure. Every situation is tough. We are very process-driven and we are used to anticipating risks heading our way and doing it through the due process which is where the legal training helps. People feel POSH is very partial towards men but that’s not the case. If a woman puts an allegation, the guy will make counter-allegations and accordingly justice will be given depending on whose side has more merit. All my cases are tough.
Why is the POSH Act not applicable to men who too are harassed sometimes at the workplace?
This is something we train people about because men especially feel very isolated. This law came about when the Bhanwari Devi rape case took place after which the Supreme Court said that it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the women are safe. The court said, “You must create safe spaces for women and you have to have a committee which takes complaints.” That’s when the POSH Committee idea was tabled. Initially, not many companies had the POSH law it was only after the Nirbhaya case that it took some ascend because after the case a survey was taken on the number of complaints received and it’s a no brainer that 99 per cent were from women. There was an aching need to get a Committee just for women. I am sure over time when complaints get neutral, there will be an evolvement in the Act. It’s only the law that is applicable to women; the organizations are free to have gender-neutral policies.
What would your advice be to women who are being harassed and intimidated by their colleagues? What steps must she take to file a complaint against her colleagues?
The law addresses the issue immediately. If you go to a POSH Committee, it has the power to transfer you or the person you are complaining against. If the accused is not fired and is issued a warning, they will make sure one of them is transferred–either the lady or the accused. The other option is the lady will get a paid leave for three months not eating up with the regular leave which is the statutory period.
Also Read: Understanding the POSH Act