It was like any other day in office and as usual, I was glued to my laptop until my phone buzzed at 10 A.M.
“Sanjeev, come to my cabin, NOW” my reporting manager shouted from the other end.
I rushed to his cabin. However, before entering I peeped in through the glass window, he looked furious and upset.
Before I could enter and close the door, he screamed “Sanjeev, I want you to fire Pankaj immediately.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so, I enquired further. In response, he turned his laptop towards me.
It was an email from Neha Desai, our training manager. She had sent an email to Raj, our VP-HR with CC to all C-Level Executives, accusing Pankaj of sexually harassing her during their tour to Ahmedabad together. She demanded an immediate action against Pankaj or else she would file a police complaint.
I was bewildered of the accusation. “But this is impossible, Pankaj is a man of virtue” I voiced.
He looked at me angrily and said, “Sanjeev, how can you say this even after reading this email? This guy is a pervert, fire him”. “You have 24 hours to do so”, he barked.
I left his cabin after half an hour, completely exhausted and drained.
As I sat on my chair, I tried to comprehend. Five months ago, I joined leading BFSI Company’s head office at Delhi, as Talent Acquisition Manager. I was responsible for hiring for all 78 offices in India. After NINE years of career, this was my big break. This role offered everything I was looking for – great role, a team of 12 people to manage, excellent reward and growth opportunities. In past, having worked with mid-size non-branded organizations, I was still trying to learn and adapt to the culture of a big brand organization.
Neha’s email shook me. “Was my decision haste in hiring Pankaj?” I questioned myself.
Pankaj, an extremely hardworking, focused and innocent man, belongs to my team. SIX years ago, I had hired him through campus placement at my earlier workplace. He was still there while I moved out to another organization. He belongs to the lower middle class, has a mother and two sisters dependent on him. He is the sole breadwinner in his family after his father’s death.
A requirement of Senior Recruiter in my team reminded me of him. I hired him again a couple of months ago.
During lunch, I was joined by Finance and Payroll managers.
As we were about to leave, to our respective desks, I casually asked them about Neha.
Both of them looked at each other with a naughty smile, “Sanjeev, if you are on a travel schedule with her, you will enjoy. Just be careful, she is a reference of our CEO” They said with a wink and left.
Pankaj was still at Ahmedabad to conduct Induction Program. I called and asked him to return to Delhi immediately. In this organization, Induction and Orientation are conducted by Talent Acquisition Team in collaboration with Training and Development Department for new hires, before handing them over to their respective functional heads.
While going home in the evening, Raj called me again, “Sanjeev, what’s update with Pankaj? Did you fire him?”
“Sir, he is in Ahmedabad. I have called him. He will be here tomorrow morning”, I replied.
“Good. We don’t need such perverts in our office. Tomorrow must be his last working day”, he advised.
“Okay Sir”, I replied to him.
Next day, Pankaj reached office at 10 AM. I immediately took him to the conference room.
“Pankaj, what’s on with Neha?” I demanded.
“What,” he asked shockingly
“Pankaj, don’t pretend. What did you do with Neha in Ahmedabad?” I asked him angrily.
“I didn’t do anything to Neha Madam. What are you talking about?” he said innocently.
“Pankaj, Neha has filed a complaint against you sexually harassed her. I have instructions to fire you”, I informed him.
He froze, blinked blankly then uttered in a low, crumbled voice
“But Sir, I am innocent. I have no idea why she is blaming me”
“You mean to say that she is trying to trap you. Are you out of your mind? Why would she do that? She has been working here for last SEVEN years. You joined just a couple of months ago. It was the first time I sent you on such assignment and you did all these things? Tell me everything from the scratch”, I shrieked said in an upsetting tone. In fact, I was really angry and furious.
With tears rolling down his cheeks, he began, “That day when we reached Ahmedabad…”
“Don’t hide anything. I want to know everything”, I interrupted.
He could barely speak. He took two hours to narrate the entire incident.
“The day before our departure to Ahmedabad, Neha Madam called me to inform that instead of her team member, Pooja, she would come along with me as Pooja was unwell. She asked me to wait near Kingfisher counter. Our flight was at 7:40 am. I reached the airport at 5:30 am and madam came by 6 am. After going through security check, we learnt that many flights were delayed or cancelled due to fog. Our flight too was rescheduled for 8:45 am and then for 10 am and finally was cancelled. Upon our request, the staff agreed to accommodate us in next flight at 3:15 PM and boarding passes could be collected at 1 PM.
We proceeded to airport lounge to kill four hours. Settled ourselves and started conversing over coffee.
She enquired about my experience in this company, my family, my future plans and my relationship status. I learnt that she got married 3 years ago at the age of 27. Her husband is working in Australia and she is going to join him soon after she gets her work visa. She didn’t sound happy about her marriage. Our flight was once again rescheduled for 4 PM, so we continued with our talks. After all reschedules and delays, we reached Ahmedabad at 6:30 PM. We were booked into Hotel Fortune Park for one day. The next day, I was to move into Hotel Ramada and Madam had to travel to Bangalore for the training of Sales Managers.
We checked-in the hotel and moved to our respective rooms. Later, she called to suggest we should go out and explore local food. I agreed. We returned back to the hotel after dinner at 10 PM. She invited me to join her for coffee in her room. I hesitated at first then obliged on her insistence.
She ordered for coffee and asked me if it was alright with me if she changed into something comfortable. I said that’s alright. Within 5 minutes, she came out in a red colour nightgown. While waiting for coffee, she tried to probe into my love life, bedroom life, etc. After coffee, when I was about to leave, she held my hand and said she was scared of sleeping alone and if I could share the room with her. I declined but she advanced on me and started kissing saying no one would ever come to know. I was terrified. I prised myself away and ran towards the door. She yelled at me that no one ever refused her, not even CEO. Then she threatened me of dire consequences if I didn’t submit myself to her. I pleaded to let go of me. She laughed, looked at me sarcastically while I was leaving.
We met for breakfast, next morning. She behaved as though nothing had happened. We checked out and moved to Hotel Ramada, which was also the venue for our induction program. Last month we had hired 35 people in Ahmedabad and they were scheduled for Three-day induction program.
Induction program went very well. After lunch, she requested if she could use my room to change her clothes for her scheduled flight to Bangalore at 6 PM. I agreed. She then asked me to come to the room to finish last night’s pending work. I ignored and told her to submit my keys at reception when she is done. She left fuming.
He unfolded the entire episode.
I was revolted, more by the fact that it was impossible to present any proof of Pankaj’s innocence.
“Let me see what can be done”, I assured him. And we walked out of the conference room.
I fixed a meeting with Raj after half an hour. I asked Pankaj to accompany me.
“Sir, he is Pankaj”, I introduced.
Raj fixed me with a fierce gaze. “Sanjeev, what is he doing in my cabin? Why is this pervert not fired yet”?
“Sir, we need 5 minutes of your time. That email is bogus. You must hear him out as well. Please, Sir. Just 5 minutes”, I pleaded like anything.
“Okay, tell me and stick to objective”, he said, turning his focus back to his laptop.
And then he begins to type something on this laptop as if he is least interested.
Pankaj narrated everything again. Once he finished, Raj asked him to leave and told me to sit.
“Sanjeev, why are you meddling with the things? The decision has been taken. Pankaj needs to go”, He told me.
“Sir, he is innocent. He has a family to look after. We need to give him a fair chance”, I justified.
“Innocent? How do you know that? Maybe he is creating a story. For a moment, even if I believe what he is saying is right then what? Who else will believe his story”, he countered.
“But sir, as Pankaj said and even I have heard from few employees that she sleeps with others in organization…” I said before he interrupted.
“Sanjeev, you have lost it. No one will come forward to give statements against her. Pankaj could have done what others did. What’s so big deal? Look we don’t have time to waste. If she goes to the police, it will affect the reputation of the organization. It’s not worth a risk for a junior employee. Let him go. You will get better people. There are many available in the market”, I explained.
“Sir, he belongs to a very poor family. He is the only breadwinner in the family. It will affect their economic condition. I am sure, we can do something”, I requested him.
“Alright, give me time to think. I will get back to you by tomorrow morning. Let me speak to Neha and our CEO”, he assured me.
Next day morning, as soon as Raj reached the office, he called me into his cabin.
“Sanjeev, I spoke to our CEO and Neha. Considering his financial situation, Neha has agreed to take back her complaint, provided Pankaj give her written apology. We must give him a written warning for insubordination of his senior. There must not be any complaint against him. One more complaint and he will be out”, He pronounced.
Pankaj wrote an apology to Neha. I gave him a written warning. A copy of the warning was placed in his personal file.
Within next two months, Pankaj got a new job and he moved out. Neha has also left the company. I also moved out of the organization for another assignment.
This incident made me ponder that even males could be a victim of sexual harassment. Our society doesn’t endorse. We have no legislation to cover sexual crimes against men. Sexual relation is a personal choice. Forcing anyone into a physical relation is rape.
With this tale, I am neither denoting that all females in corporate are Neha nor endorsing that all males are Pankaj. This world is full of good and bad people of both sexes. Let’s not be biased and let’s not judge someone blindfolded.
What would you have done had you been in place of Pankaj? Please share your feedback and experiences.
Composed By – Sanjeev Himachali & Anju Talmale