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Overcoming Mental Harassment – The Law and The Corporate



The Law

In this series, I have tried to cover some areas that affect the mental well-being of an employee at workplace. Most of the times, we look for laws and regulations pertaining to certain instances of discomfort. In the US and Europe, Mental Harassment is touted as equivalent to Sexual Harassment and has laws and policies in place for identification and treatment. In India, there are laws in place against Sexual Harassment, but no specific Law or Policy against Mental Harassment.


However, there is a landmark judgement of Hon’ble High Court of Andhra Pradesh in L. Nagaraju vs Syndicate Bank and Ors. on Mental Harassment at workplace on December 18, 2013. It recognised the problem as:


“Harassment is an unwanted conduct, deliberate or otherwise, related to the equality grounds previously outlined, which has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for employees. This can include unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct. Such behaviour is unacceptable where:


(i) It is an unwanted, unreasonable and offensive to the recipient.

(ii) It is used as the basis for an employment decision.

(iii) It creates a hostile working environment."


The High Court went on to give a judgement, part of which reads:


“Harassment detracts from a productive working environment and can affect the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it, including anyone who witnesses or knows about the unwanted behaviour.”


The complete judgment is one of its kind and has covered a lot of scenarios that may lead to mental discomfort at workplace.


A country with one of the largest percentage of working class in the world needs to cover all areas of discomfort, especially mental. Quitting and firing cannot be the primary solution to solving such problems, especially in a job market that is bleeding profusely right now. If ILO can roll out guidelines so early into the pandemic, India can surely work on the lines.


International Labour Organisation – Guidelines for Making WFH Less Troublesome


In these unprecedented times, the ILO released An Employer’s Guide on working from home in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. It states,


In the absence of face-to-face contact, the traditional “command and control” style of management becomes less relevant and managers may struggle to find other ways to make sure that workers are getting their work done during WFH….. the effective management of WFH requires a results-based management approach. This involves identifying objectives, tasks and milestones, and then monitoring and discussing progress without overly burdensome reporting requirements.”


ILO has also recognised the significance of mutual trust and communication in having an effective and productive WFH life.


Employers should build mutual trust and establish shared responsibilities with workers through open and transparent discussions about expectations and outputs, including:

  • when workers will be available and be responsive;

  • how they will keep in touch, such as online and telephone contact;

  • how work-life balance will be managed, for instance through regular breaks and switching off from work at the end of the day;

  • how performance and reporting will be managed, taking into consideration worker’s circumstances where necessary;

  • who workers should contact if they have any work-related issue;

  • who workers should contact if they have an emergency type situation.

ILO has also recognised the cons of WFH era as employees globally face blurred lines between official and personal time. Ultimately, the one solution prescribed by ILO to deal with difficult WFH life is effective communication between the employer and the employee.


The Corporate

Pandemic fatigue is a very unfortunate by-product of the WFH era that has caused physical and mental discomfort to professionals worldwide. Taking cognizance of the changing times, many companies rolled out guidelines, policies and laws to make lives easier for those working from home.


Notable multinationals and start-ups in India and the rest of the world have brought about radical changes in their work from home guidelines to make lives easier for their employees.


An online gaming app introduced No Meeting Thursdays and extended their lunch hours from 60 minutes to 90 minutes daily.


A payment gateway start up introduced a No Meetings Day every second Wednesday of the month. It also restricted the meeting hours to 10 am–7 pm only.


Internet, consultancy and FMCG multinational giants declared official holidays to create long weekends and give their employees time to unwind from the hectic wfh schedules.


An IT Consultancy multinational rolled out the guideline for no conferences after 5 pm in its Northwest US offices.


Besides, NASSCOM has been working on looking at effective WFH solutions before the pandemic hit. Taking cognizance of the recommendations given by the IT-BPM industry, about 3 months back, it submitted certain recommendations to the Ministry of Finance considering WFH scenario in the long run. Although the recommendations are about making taxation and reimbursements easier for employees, I say, it is a start.


Conclusion

India still has a long way to go when it comes to managing Mental Harassment at Workplace. Although the movement has begun, the general perception still remains that no employee is indispensable and hence, mental well-being can be overlooked.


This pandemic has brought in unprecedented scenarios that need unprecedented measures. Many European countries like Germany, France and Spain have rolled out, or are in the process of rolling out employees’ rights during WFH.


As India Inc. continues to make strides in every sphere, let mental well-being be one of the priorities, especially in the times of forced-WFH. Everyone is here to work and earn a living, after all.

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