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BigLaw Harassment: A rusted culture that needs sanitization

Young lawyer resigns from AZB citing mental harassment

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The recent case of an Associate at AZB & Partners resigning has brought the issue of workplace harassment into spotlight.

What is Toxicity at Workplace ?

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The outdated ecosystem of Indian BigLaw (also known as Tier-1) firms’ poor culture has remained a hush-hush topic for far too long, with rare incidents of public scrutiny. There are many different forms of harassment- including sexual discrimination, racial remarks, ableism/anti-disability, ageism etc.

There is a persistent culture of ‘presenteeism‘, where early-career professionals feel pressured to work long hours due to job-insecurity. It also leads to a culture of syndromic silence, where employees are afraid to speak up about harassment.

22nd Aug email viz complaint to Hardeep Sachdeva (AZB)

Synopsis of email dated 22/07/23:
The Associate in his complaint to top-brass at AZB cites “mental harassment”, “public humiliation” amongst others such as disrespect, abuse, discriminatory and offensive remarks.

24th Aug email to Hardeep Sachdeva (AZB)

He upon a subsequent meeting with firm’s management, sent a resignation letter.

 

Synopsis of email dated 24/07/23:

The associate conveys gratitude to Sr. Partner for acknowledgement of complaint. He’s also seen to apologize for his original mail not being put “delicately” and for any “misunderstanding”.

 

Credits to the article by BarAndBench (a specialized legal website):

As per B&B report, the associate clarified that he did not publish (or leak) the email on any social platform, and wanted an amicable departure from the firm.

Furthermore, joint-statement by top partners of AZB states this incident as an “internal matter blown out of proportion”. They also emphasize that the concerned associate was with them for just 2 months. However, failing to mention an action (if any) with respect to the disciplinary complaint or thereof seniors listed for misconduct.

It should be worth taking cognizance that the employee had to leave within such a short span of time, reflecting the magnitude of toxic entrenchment. An employee, even on the 1st-day of joining an organization is entitled to the same workers’ rights as senior-most personnel.

Unfortunately, the official statement tries to trivialize this incident.
The communique falls flat in assuring trust-building measures and will to maintain a harassment-free workplace.

HR Department- a debilitated silent spectator

Such cases highlight the importance of an effective HR department that is committed to preventing and addressing workplace harassment. They are morally and ethically obligated to support and care for an employee, however, this is seldom the case.

Unfortunately, the inherent dampening of complaints starts from a lackadaisical HR practice, mostly owing to ill-equipped authority. Founders and top management should empower the Head-HR (or Chief People Officer) to strictly enforce anti-harassment policy, conduct training on harassment prevention, as well as investigative and disciplinary mandate.

They should build trust with employees where professionals know that their complaints will be taken seriously without fear of retaliatory or punitive actions.

Thematic thoughts by CJI

CJI DY Chandrachud champions progressive employment practices, per say gender-sensitive language, stricter POSH enforcement and sustainable workplace culture at law-firms. While remembering his late ex-wife, he mentioned an incident where she was told to “work 24*7*365”, ”find a husband who would do household chores” and effectively concede “no family time”.

He commented that legal institutions need to create a culture that supports work-life balance. This means providing lawyers with flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting and flextime, and encouraging them to take breaks and vacations.

Justice Chandrachud’s remarks are a reminder of the importance of work-life balance for lawyers. By taking steps to support work-life balance, law firms and other legal institutions can help to ensure that their lawyers are healthy, happy, and productive.

Legacy rots in structures are hard to break, but are broken nonetheless!


The associate has to be lauded for taking a bold stance on his individual rights. There are several comments pouring in about the incident, therefore it is prudent to compare that naysayers’ thought bubbles (re: work ethic, competitive attitude, workers’ loyalty etc) are ideologically similar to those who opposed POSH Act or Anti-Ragging Act.
There has been commendable improvement in awareness of workplace rights following the aforementioned pieces of legislation that help create a safe environment for all employees as well as students.

Evidently, only a legislative act restricts propagation of unhealthy and detrimental practices, need of the hour is (long-pending) Labour Law Reform in India.

राज्‍यों से जुड़ी हर खबर और देश-दुनिया की ताजा खबरें पढ़ने के लिए नार्थ इंडिया स्टेट्समैन से जुड़े। साथ ही लेटेस्‍ट हि‍न्‍दी खबर से जुड़ी जानकारी के लि‍ये हमारा ऐप को डाउनलोड करें।

Prabhu Pradhan

International Consultant (Tech Affairs), Ex- AI Research Scientist

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