The cautionary tale told by The Viral Fever founder, Arunabh Kumar’s sexual harassment controversy is the one of a grieve ignorance on the part of Indian start-ups to frame robust HR policies for such cases. A blog post, dated arch 12, shared anonymously by a woman on the content-sharing site Medium opened the can of worms against the creator of the web entertainment company.

In the write-up, the woman accused Arunabh of physical and verbal harassment during her period of employment between 2014 and 2016. She also alleged that Kumar made lewd comments, touched her inappropriately and suggested sex several times, and that her complaints were not taken seriously by another male colleague at TVF.

As the post began to go viral on Monday, similar complaints from other women also started flowing in on social media. The company then responded by dismissing the allegations as ‘ludicrous and defamatory’ and claimed that it will ‘leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice.’

Initial rumours had suggested the absence of a proper Human Resource (HR) department in the company that was later clarified by a senior TVF employee. But despite this defence, what this controversy brings to the fore is the wait-until-you’re-in-trouble nature of policies for sexual harassment in the Indian start-up ecosystem that makes it difficult for women to report such incidents.

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Failing to have a proper HR for addressing these cases is a violation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. It is alarming to note that as many as 36 percent of Indian companies don’t comply with this Act, according to a FICCI-EY report from November 2015.

Under the Act, every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee at each office or branch with 10 or more employees. The Committee is required to complete the inquiry within a time period of 90 days. On completion of the inquiry, the report will be sent to the employer or the District Officer, as the case may be, they are mandated to take action on the report within 60 days.

Non-compliance with the provisions of the Act shall be punishable with a fine of up to ₹ 50,000. Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of license or registration to conduct business. The Government can order an officer to inspect workplace and records related to sexual harassment in any organisation.

The implementation of these regulations is a bare minimum for all companies, including start-ups, in the country. Furthermore, what is needed to safeguard the interests of female employees is the nurturing of an environment wherein they feel free to speak up against any form of harassment without the fear of risking their careers or public images.

Images: Facebook