It is important to understand the concept of an External Member on PoSH ICC. In India, the PoSH Act 2013 (Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace) mandates that an ICC be constituted in workplaces where there are 10 or more employees, to redress the complaints of sexual harassment. The ICC must have a minimum of four members, of which half must be women. The employer is responsible for nominating the members, including an external member from a non-government organization or an organization committed to the cause of women. Failure to constitute an ICC or non-compliance with regulations can result in penalties, including a fine of up to INR 50,000, doubled if the offence is not corrected, and potential de-registration or revocation of any statutory business licenses.
The External Member must meet specific eligibility criteria as mandated in the Act, which stipulates that the individual must be from an NGO committed to the cause of women or must have knowledge of issues related to sexual harassment or legal expertise in the matter. It is essential to choose an external member with experience in dealing with sexual harassment issues and has a reputation for acting in a neutral and unbiased manner, with knowledge and experience of the Act. The ICC requires someone with knowledge, skills, and capacity to deal with workplace sexual harassment issues/complaints and a sound understanding of the legal aspects and implications. Although there is no gender specification for an external member, most organizations prefer a woman for the position.
However, there are grey areas related to the functioning of an external member in an ICC, including the lack of elaboration on what qualifies as being “familiar with issues relating to sexual harassment” or “committed to the cause of women.” The regulatory framework does not prescribe any prior experience or other qualifications required for an individual selected from a non-governmental organization to serve as an external member of the ICC. Another point that requires clarity is regarding the extension of the term of an existing member of the ICC beyond three years, and what happens to complaints that are being investigated by the existing ICC if the external member’s tenure expires.
Organizations are often reluctant to include external members on sensitive committees, and if pushed to the wall, they include someone closer to the organization who may not be the right candidate as per the Act. Individuals convicted of an offence or under inquiry or disciplinary proceedings cannot act as an External Member of an ICC. The External Member is expected to act as a neutral, impartial, and expert member, bringing a degree of objectivity and outside perspective to the working of the ICC and providing the complainant with the assurance of an inquiry mechanism that is objective, neutral, and not influenced by possible pressures from the employer.
If you are seeking to employ an experienced and competent external member for your ICC, feel free to contact us.