During the pandemic, many employees have been working remotely. Businesses have been utilizing technology to keep their staff connected and engaged, but working from home does create a sense of informality, leading to behavior that may not be appropriate. Using video conferencing apps for meetings can make for a more productive and engaging time than group discussions over the phone, but there are also some harassment risks for employers with a remote workforce to consider:
When working from home, the desire to work in comfortable clothes could tip from casual to inappropriate. You may have seen memes and stories about employees wearing professional tops without appropriate bottoms or family members dashing by too much in the buff. Fortunately, these wardrobe malfunctions are easily preventable with a little planning on the employee’s part. Remind them to plan ahead.
Ask that employees also take stock of what’s in their background before turning video on. Could there be inappropriate personal items or art that some might consider offensive? A number of video conferencing apps have virtual backgrounds that can eliminate both the threat of harassment as well as general distractions.
Video vs. Phone Call
Ensure that virtual meetings are scheduled equitably. For example, if a manager checks in with men on the team over the phone, but uses video for one-on-one meetings with the women, that would be a cause for concern.
Virtual Happy Hours
Both the use of alcohol and the act of communicating over a screen can decrease formality. Set expectations around respectful behavior and encourage employees to drink responsibly, if allowed, during happy hours. Remind employees that harassment and other conduct policies apply, just as they would at any other company-sponsored function.
Further Considerations Around Virtual Harassment
- Handbook Policies: Review your company harassment and discrimination handbook policies and ensure they’re inclusive of, and applicable to, remote work and interactions.
- National Origin and Race: An April 2020 Ipsos survey found that more than 30 percent of Americans have witnessed someone blaming Asian people for the coronavirus pandemic. The EEOC recently suggested that employers reduce harassment risk by clearly informing employees that fear of COVID-19 cannot be “misdirected against individuals” based on any protected characteristic, including national origin or race. Be alert for any discriminatory comments and be ready to act.
- Age: Keep an ear out for jokes about employees’ age. A seemingly harmless barb about an older employee’s unfamiliarity with technology could result in a discrimination claim.