Business Standard

At Irdai, discrepanc­ies in reporting of sexual harassment cases


The Insurance Regulatory and Developmen­t Authority of India (Irdai) does not consider all sexual harassment complaints for action.

Business Standard wrote to Irdai for data on sexual harassment complaints through an applicatio­n filed under the Right to Informatio­n (RTI) Act. It provided informatio­n prompter than the Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Reserve Bank of India — the two other financial regulators whom we had asked the same questions.

There were, however, mismatches in figures provided in Irdai’s annual report and in the RTI reply.

Asked about this, Irdai replied in an email, “The discrepanc­ies referred to by you about the informatio­n provided under the RTI and the annual reports are due to the time lag between the complaint filed with ICC (internal complaints committee), recommenda­tions of the ICC sent to HR (human resource) department, final action taken, and the publicatio­n of the informatio­n in the annual report as per timelines asked by the department concerned.”

It added that it treated disclosure of sexual harassment by temporary workers separately from those by permanent employees, though it addressed both.

“One complaint was received from an outsourced employee on contract basis. Although processed and disposed of in 201516, it was not mentioned in the annual report, as it was not a case of a regular employee,” Irdai said.

Both are supposed to be treated equally, according to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibitio­n and Redressal) Act. The law includes all workers under its definition of employees. This includes those employed in regular, temporary or even those working on a daily basis.

“A complaint is a complaint, it doesn’t matter whether the woman is temporaril­y or permanentl­y (employed),” said Amit Tandon, founder and managing director of governance advisory firm Institutio­nal Investor Advisory Services India.

Organisati­ons can chose against disclosure of inquiries they have undertaken if the offender is a temporary worker, since the action based on the inquiry (dismissal, demotion) would have to be taken by the contractor with whom the person is employed, according to Samriti Makkar Midha, partner at Posh at Work, an organisati­on dealing with sexual harassment issues. But there can be a case for disclosing such instances, according to her, with a note on recommenda­tion being forwarded to the contractor for further action.

“As a healthy measure…one can still report it,” she said.

The insurance industry, which Irdai regulates, has seen an increase in the absolute number of complaints. In 2017-18, at least 33 complaints were registered.

This is based on based on annual filings by three listed insurance companies for whom continuous data was available. They include HDFC Life Insurance Company, SBI Life Insurance Company and General Insurance Corporatio­n of India. The numbers have improved over 2015-16.

An August 2018 Internatio­nal Labour Organizati­on paper on women’s participat­ion in the workforce mentioned the effects of sexual harassment.

“Sexual and other forms of harassment against women can hinder their entry, stay and progress in the labour market. They may discourage women to go to work or to undertake training and may also deter them from entering non-traditiona­l and betterpayi­ng jobs, thereby perpetuati­ng pay inequality for women,” it said.

The percentage of women participat­ing in the labour force is 27 per cent. The global figure is 48.5 per cent, shows World Bank data. Experts say that better disclosure­s may be the first step to creating a more enabling work environmen­t.

This is the concluding part of a three-part series looking at disclosure of sexual harassment complaints at financial regulators

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