Over the past year, many workplaces became virtual out of necessity, with employees working from home or maybe an Airbnb up the coast or in the desert for a change of scenery. Many companies learned that some of their employees can be just as productive (if not more so) without having to come into the office and sit at a cubicle all day. Some of the most successful companies in the country, including Google, Microsoft and Nationwide Insurance, are now giving employees the option to work remotely on a permanent basis.
Unfortunately, remote working doesn’t make sexual harassment a thing of the past. It just takes it online. While there might not be as much physical harassment, virtual harassment is very real and can be extremely frightening. It can affect a person’s ability to do their job – particularly if the harasser is their manager or someone they have to deal with on a regular basis. You can’t just block a colleague the way you can block a stranger or an ex who harasses you on Twitter, Facebook or your phone.
Your responsibilities as an employer
Human resources professionals recommend that employers incorporate rules about online behavior in their sexual harassment policy and training. They also remind employers that they need to:
- Stay vigilant about employee behavior, whether it’s on a videoconference or via email, text or another type of communication.
- Take the same action for employees who perpetrate online sexual harassment as they would those who harass others in the office or other workspace.
- Encourage employees to speak up if they are the victim of sexual harassment or witness someone else being harassed.
Even companies where most employees don’t work remotely may get a lot of their work done online. If you have offices across the country or in other parts of the world, your interactions with those team members may be almost entirely online. That’s why it’s wise for just about every employer to make clear to employees that their behavior toward colleagues virtually needs to be just as professional as it is in person.
If you have questions as you revise your sexual harassment policy or if you’re having an issue with an employee who has reported being harassed, it’s wise to seek the guidance of your attorneys.