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Ask Mx Conduct: My Colleague Sits Too Close to Me, Am I Being Too Sensitive?

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

A workplace expert will answer your questions on what's making you uncomfortable at work, what should you do if you're at the receiving end of discrimination, bias, differential treatment at work, and more.

Earlier this week, a Delhi trial court acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the defamation case brought on against her by former Union Minister MJ Akbar. Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey said that the court took into consideration “systemic abuse at workplace” to arrive at the verdict. Taking cognisance of the lack of Vishaka Guidelines – procedural guidelines for sexual harassment cases – at the time of alleged harassment, the court ordered that women have the right to grievance even decades later.

In view of what is being hailed as a big win for the #MeToo movement in India, we are starting a column that will be your guide in matters of sexual harassment at the workplace.

A workplace expert will answer your questions on what’s making you uncomfortable at work, what should you do if you’re at the receiving end of discrimination, bias, differential treatment at work, and more.

Q. I applied for a job and during the interview, I was asked whether I’m married or have kids. It was asked in a casual manner, but makes me wonder if the reason I didn’t get the job was because I’m married and also mother to a kid. Is this a right practice in interviews? Can I do something? (Mx. Anonymous, 34 years old, Gurgaon)

A. Asking women about their marital status and children is a common practice. For generations, these two answers have been defining whether a woman will be a competitive candidate for a role. Legally speaking, this is not an approved practice as it contributes to the prevalent bias and discrimination at workplaces and limits women’s entry in industries. In today’s times, companies should not be asking this question. However, to assume that this is the reason the job offer did not happen would be also not right.

Perhaps writing to their HR and asking them a reason for the same and expressing your concerns on this line of questioning is a good start. The next time someone asks you this question, please ask why they need this information and how will it help them assess your candidacy.

Q. I think my colleague comes off a little too strong and close whenever we are sitting in the cab together. It could be nothing, but I feel that there is something off about the way they sit close. What should I do? What if I talk about it and it comes off as if I’m being too sensitive? (Mx. Anonymous, 24 years old)

A. Speak to them. Tell them that you are not comfortable about the way they are in the cab. Show them where to keep the bag if they are carrying one, and place it on the seat in between. Tell them exactly what is happening and why it is inappropriate. Any sensible person will be open to listening. It’s very easy to say that someone is being too sensitive when they can’t defend their own actions. So, don’t worry about that. If this does not work, involve someone from your team, a senior, or the HR in this, and address it properly.

Q. There is no gender-neutral washroom in my office. What can I do? I need one. (Mx. Anonymous, 27 years old)

A. If you need one then you must have one. Many workplace leaders are not aware of the basic individual needs of their team members and there is no harm in educating them. However, foremost know that this is your right and not a luxury you are asking for. Write to the HR, marking few senior leaders and let them know the situation on ground. Educate them patiently about this. Be prepared to do this few more times, just in case it doesn’t happen right away. From my experience, any conscious leader is just waiting for suggestions to make the workplace more inclusive.

Q. I filed a complaint to HR about sexual misconduct. It has been a month and I have followed up thrice already. What can I do?

A. First, I am sorry to hear this. No one should have to go through such experiences at the workplace or otherwise. Secondly, thank you for asking this question. If your HR has not reached out to you or connected you with the Internal Committee of your company, write a letter to them again, marking the legal, and senior leaders of the organization. Tell them that under the POSH Act, 2013, they are obligated to provide you with proper redressal. Leaders, like everyone else, need educating. If you do not hear from them in a week’s time, send another email and this time tell them again that in the absence of any action from them, you will need to raise it outside the organization.

Powered by Ungender and answered by its Founder, Pallavi Pareek, every Saturday, we will be answering questions on your workplace worries.

Send us your workplace worries at <pallavi@ungender.in> and you’ll have answers to your questions every week. You can also tweet to us @news18dotcom your queries with #AskMxConduct.

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first published:February 20, 2021, 08:00 IST