The Murthy takeaway

Workplaces should proactively enforce a strict code on sexual harassment, rather than invite legal action

For the second time in 11 years, Phaneesh Murthy's alleged sexual transgressions have rocked the corporate world. In 2002, he was fired from his job as US-based global sales head of Infosys after his executive assistant filed sexual harassment charges. The case, and the mud it flung up, focused attention on India's new economy workplaces, like Infosys, and their commitment towards a fair and gender-just environment. But Murthy's career was barely bruised. He settled a similar claim from another Infosys employee in 2004, by which time he was already the successful CEO of iGate Global Solutions, a company based out of Fremont, California — which has now sacked him for not disclosing his relationship with a subordinate. After a complaint was filed, the company took immediate action. The sooner Indian companies internalise that zero tolerance for abuse of power or unwelcome sexually tinged behaviour, the less likely it is that they will have to endure costly legal intervention, or damage their own public reputation and morale.

Sexual harassment covers a multitude of offences, and it is only in the last couple of decades that they have been defined and addressed. It was once ignored or played down as an all-too-human tangle, the private business of the individuals involved. Now, that kind of institutional denial is no longer tenable. Sexual harassment could range from an unwelcome lewd comment to an outright advance, and often when the harasser is in a position of power, it can close off work opportunities, create a hostile or intimidating environment for the victim. While the offenders are individuals, responsibility also rests with the organisation — management must act promptly to remedy the situation, examining each claim carefully and without hurting the complainant's career in the least. They could also conduct confidential surveys, and educate all employees about their protections.

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