top of page

For Individuals

This information is primarily meant for people who work in an organisational structure. While the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act refers only to women as the targets of sexual harassment, in this document we recognize that other genders can also be in this situation and that many institutions have gender-neutral POSH policies. Therefore, the general guidance given here is meant to be helpful for any victim of harassment.


Resources and Guidance for Individuals: At a Glance

Resources are organised into the following sections. Click on each for more information. 

Disclaimer: While the information below is provided as guidance, we strongly recommend that you contact a professional expert if you have faced an incident of sexual harassment at the work space. 

What are the laws protecting women from sexual harassment at the workplace? What can you expect your employers to do to safeguard employees at the workplace? 

How can you prepare yourself, as individual researchers, and what steps can you take as team leaders, to ensure a safe and healthy workplace? 

Are you uncomfortable with a workplace situation or relationship? What culture can you expect or strive for at your workplace?  

Bystanders and Allies

How can you best support victims of sexual harassment, and help prevent incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace? 

Know your rights details

Know your rights

There are several laws that set out women’s rights at the workplace. In the context of sexual harassment or abuse, the most relevant law is the The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, commonly referred to as the POSH Act. The POSH Act built upon earlier guidelines and rules (Vishaka, Saksham report) as well as intersecting laws (see National Commission for Women).


Under the POSH Act, sexual harassment is considered a violation of a woman’s fundamental and constitutional right to equality as well as her right to life and to live with dignity. Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexually related behaviour, whether in person, or via messaging, digital platforms etc. Examples include “unwelcome physical contact and advances, demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, or any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature”. It also includes quid pro quo-style demands for sexual favours in return for preferential treatment, or under threat of discriminatory treatment in the workplace. 


A key aspect of the definition is that harassment is not defined by the intention of the accused, but rather by how it is perceived by the aggrieved person. For example, if Person A makes a comment about Person B’s body or appearance (“I was only joking/I wanted to compliment her/I was just expressing my feelings”), it counts as harassment if Person B finds it offensive. Consider another situation: if Person A tells Person B about sexually explicit content (like pornography) or shares images or screenshots, it counts as harassment if Person B finds it offensive.


The POSH Act stipulates that women have the right to safe working spaces and that employers have a dual responsibility: to prevent sexual harassment as well as take remedial measures if any instances are brought to their notice. 


The Act uses an extensive definition of “workplace” - it is not just your ordinary location of work (e.g: your office) but includes all the places you visit as part of your work, including transport to and from these places. This means that the Act covers meeting places in another institution, workshops and conference venues, field stations and field sites, as well as transport to such locations that is arranged by or paid for by your employer.

What are your employer’s obligations?


Quoting from the POSH Act, your organisation is obligated to:


  1. Provide a safe working environment 

  2. Have a POSH policy and constitute an Internal Committee that can address complaints or incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace. 

  3. Display conspicuously at the workplace, the penal consequences of indulging in acts that may constitute sexual harassment and the composition of the Internal Committee (also called the Internal Complaints Committee)

  4. Organise workshops and awareness programmes at regular intervals for sensitizing employees on the issues and implications of workplace sexual harassment and organizing orientation programmes for members of the Internal Committee 

  5. Treat sexual harassment as a misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for misconduct. 

  6. The employer is also required to monitor the timely submission of reports by the IC. 


“If an employer fails to constitute an Internal Committee or does not comply with any provisions contained therein, the Sexual Harassment Act prescribes a monetary penalty of up to INR 50,000. A repetition of the same offence could result in the punishment being doubled and / or de-recognition.”

If you have been the subject of sexual harassment at the workplace, you can complain to your organisation’s Internal Committee. According to the POSH Act, all organisations with at least 10 employees must constitute such a committee (even if all 10 employees are male). The membership and contact details of the Internal Committee must be displayed prominently around the workplace. 


If your organisation does not have an Internal Committee, you can complain to the District Officer, Women and Child Development/District Magistrate/District Collector. They can either demand a formal written explanation from the organisation/conduct a surprise inspection visit or summon relevant records. You can also complain to your nearest police station, irrespective of jurisdiction. You can also file an online complaint with the Sexual Harassment electronic Box (SHe-Box) developed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Complaints filed on this website will be directly sent to the concerned authority having jurisdiction to take action into the matter.

If, during the course of your work, you have been sexually harassed by an employee of another organisation, you can complain to that organisation’s Internal Committee, or seek the help of your organisation’s Internal Committee in filing a complaint, or complain to the police. If you make a complaint to the accused’s organisation, their IC is obliged by law to take up your complaint.

A broad outline of the procedure following a report of sexual harassment
Process Flowchart.jpg
Other relevant laws

The Internal/Local Committee may also draw on other related laws when examining a complaint and listing the actions to be taken. For example, The Mental Healthcare Act 2017; working conditions as laid out by the relevant labour acts; The Equal Remuneration Act 1976; Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, Information Technology Act 2000 etc and relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (such as Sec 354, 354 A-D which deal with voyeurism, stalking, showing pornography etc; Sec 375, 376 A-D which deal with rape). 


Section 46(4) of the Code Of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2005 - No woman can be arrested or summoned to a police station after sunset and before sunrise (i.e. 6 pm and 6 am). If at all necessary (due to exceptional circumstances), it has to be carried out by a woman police officer after acquiring the prior permission of a first-class Judicial Magistrate within whose local jurisdiction the offence was committed or the arrest is to be made. 


Section 53(2) – Whenever a woman has to be medically examined, the examination shall be made only by, or under the supervision of, a female registered medical practitioner.

Warning signs
across workspaces

At diverse workplaces - from offices to remote field sites - there are some signs or 'red flags' that you can keep an eye out for to better safeguard yourself from various forms of harassment or negative experiences. 

Here, we outline some common problematic contexts, specific to interpersonal relationships at the workplace or institutional processes, that are important to remain cognizant of. Download the document below to know more.


If you are concerned about your work environment:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the POSH policy of your organisation, and be informed of its IC membership. Familiarise yourself with other grievance redressal mechanisms in your institution. 

  2. If you are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in your workspace, in particular, in your field camp, talk to your colleagues, team leader, or a senior in your organisation. 

  3. If you feel like your team leader or supervisor is being unnecessarily critical of your work, talk to them; this may clear up any misunderstanding or miscommunication, and provides an opportunity to make your views clear to your supervisor.

  4. If you still are unable to tackle the issue, consider seeing the advice of a senior person in the organisation. If colleagues also face the same issue, you could even informally approach your supervisor together, and request them to facilitate an open discussion on healthy workplace boundaries.

Being prepared

Being prepared

This section describes some ways in which you can keep yourself safe. We describe some advice for individual staff/researchers, as well as for team leaders. A separate section deals with how bystanders can help, and how to be an ally in case of an instance of witness sexual harassment

Individual researchers: what can you do?

BEFORE (Tips to avoid a potentially sticky situation)

Speak to your mentor/team leader 

  1. What are the conditions for stay and work in the field? What is the cultural environment at the field site? Are there any risks to be aware of? 

  2. What is the reporting mechanism for inappropriate, negative or dangerous incidents?                    (Ideally your team leader should organise such a session with the field team before a field trip/regularly)

Let them know immediately if you feel at risk, unsafe or uncomfortable, or if you are worried about your safety, in the field.  


Speak to fellow field team members 

  1. Whom do team members speak to about a difficult situation? How can you support each other in the field? Are there ground rules or a code of conduct for everyone to follow?                                          (Here too, ideally your team leader should organise such a session with the field team before a field trip/regularly)

  2. Get the contact details of a mentor/internal committee member who can be contacted in an emergency. This is in addition to knowing about your organisation’s formal POSH process. 

  3. In the field, if required, try to work in pairs/groups. This helps to reduce the risk of harassment by people outside the team. Consider modifying field timings and locations if clear risks are indicated.

Team leaders: what you can do


  • Formulate a code of conduct for the field team and ensure that all are aware of this

  • Make assessing risks at the field site a part of the preparation for field visits/fieldwork.

  • Regularly conduct sessions with the field team in which the code of conduct, potential risks at the field site, support mechanisms among team members, and reporting mechanisms for negative incidents are discussed

  • Communicate a zero-tolerance policy in a language that is understood by everyone i.e., in English and regional languages

  • Make a list of appropriate emergency phone numbers, such as of the police or women's cell

Bystander and allies

Sexual harassment does not only involve the perpetrators and the victims. Rather, all of us have a role and a responsibility to work towards removing, or at least reducing, such behaviour. In some cases, when we are present when an incident takes place, we can take direct steps to intervene as bystanders. But even if we are not present, we can contribute as allies in working proactively by helping our institutions to frame and apply appropriate policies and procedures; and to support victims in several ways after an incident has occurred.

What can you do if you witness or learn of sexual harassment?

Bystander intervention is one of the most effective evidence-based interventions to stop sexual harassment. Bystanders are commonly understood as those who are present when an incident takes place, but who are not directly involved. The term also includes those who are not actually present, but instead witness the events leading up to an incident.


At a broad level, bystanders have an important role to play in establishing a larger culture of respect and safety in the workplace. In contrast to these positive effects, bystanders who do nothing can have two kinds of negative effects: give confidence to the perpetrator that their behaviour is condoned, and lessen the victim’s confidence in being able to effectively seek help. Additionally, remember that silence does not equal consent. The recipient may be visibly uncomfortable but unable to speak up or ask for help.

It is sometimes difficult to gauge whether intervention is needed. However any behaviour that is clearly in violation of your institution’s code of conduct, or its POSH policy, is unacceptable. If you are not sure, ask others. In a workplace context, your institution should shield allies and victims from repercussions against filing a complaint – if this is not clear in its policies, this is a good thing to advocate for.​

If you are witnessing, or have witnessed, a situation that warrants intervention, you could follow the 5 Ds of bystander intervention, which stand for Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct. You can use one or more of these depending on your assessment of how safe it is for you to intervene – you don’t want to escalate the risk of harm to yourself or the victim.

Bystander choices - Low Risk Situations


In this type of intervention, a bystander confronts the perpetrator directly. It is best to make a short and clear statement:

That’s not appropriate” 

Please stop doing that” 

I am concerned about what you said/did earlier today because it wasn’t respectful” 


Your goal is to make them stop, and not get into a discussion or argument, since that is how confrontations can escalate out of control.


You may be unable to act in the moment for a variety of reasons, including fear of your own safety, or because things happened too quickly for you to intervene. 


However, you can still make a difference afterwards (after a Delay) by being supportive:

  1. Calmly listed to the victim

  2. Believe the victim

  3. Stay non-judgemental

  4. Reassure the victim that it’s not their fault

  5. Help them seek medical attention if needed

  6. Help them make a formal report or complaint

Allies: what can you do? 

In our families, institutions, and in society at large, most of us do not see ourselves as part of the problem of sexual harassment, but rather as part of the solution. Allyship can be thought of in relation to any marginalised group, based on race, ethnicity, caste, gender, and more. In our context, an ally can be thought of as someone who makes a sustained attempt at building a relationship of trust, support and accountability with women. However, for some people, being an ally can be a disturbing journey, requiring reflection on their own role in supporting a patriarchal or misogynistic culture, and making the uncomfortable transition to thinking of sexual harassment and violence as a product of our collective beliefs and behaviours.

With this background, what are the various things that you can do in trying to be an ally?


  • Learn how to be an ally, and yes, men can be allies too

  • Educate yourself about gender bias, discrimination and harassment, and start conversations with colleagues about these matters

  • Advocate for safety and equality in the workplace regardless of gender and sexual orientation

  • Lead by example; show that respect for others is important to you

  • Be there for victims

    • Calmly listen to the victim

    • Believe the victim

    • Stay non-judgemental

    • Reassure the victim that it’s not their fault

    • Help them seek medical attention if needed

    • Help them make a formal report or complaint

bottom of page