Remote Workplace Harassment Still Happens from Home
A recent report from the EEOC noted when workplaces are decentralized or remote, employees may feel unaccountable for their behavior and actions. Furthermore, employees working remotely may mistakenly believe that the standard workplace policies and behavioral expectations do not apply. All of this paired with the relaxed monitoring of employee conduct, and decreased civility of online spaces in general, can quickly turn a remote workplace hostile. Unfortunately workplace harassment still happens from home offices. With many companies switching to remote work this past year, due to Covid-19, it is important to know your lawful rights when working from home. In this article, we will discuss what remote workplace harassment can look like, what your employer should be doing about it, and how a lawyer can help.
Understanding Digital Harassment
While many assume that harassment only happens in physical, shared work spaces, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Because working from home tends to, “take on a more casual tone,” it can harm the civility, professionalism, and accountability of a workplace. The decreased formality of working remotely can ultimately contribute to a culture that tolerates harassment. Harassment is defined as, “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” Harassment becomes unlawful when enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition for continued employment. Harassment is also unlawful if the conduct is severe enough to make a reasonable person feel like their work environment is intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Now that we understand the legal definition of harassment, let’s dive into what digital harassment may look like.
Digital harassment can happen in a variety of different ways. For example, coworkers may send inappropriate jokes, comments, pictures, memes, or GIFs via email, chat messages, or employee forums. Any unsolicited or inappropriate messaging through a company’s messaging app could be considered unlawful harassment as well. With remote work, online messaging apps such as Slack or Microsoft Teams have become important ways to foster collaboration amongst employees. The downside, however, is that inappropriate and hostile behaviors have more room to hide in online platforms. Harassers may be able to access a channel that managers aren’t monitoring through one-on-one or small group messages. Additionally, inappropriate or discriminatory comments could be made during a video call. Digital harassment can also take the form of exclusion or ridicule, such as intentionally muting an employee during video conferences.
The list above of possible digital harassment examples is not exhaustive. It is important to speak with an experienced attorney about the specifics of your case to help you decide your next best move. We will talk more about how a lawyer can help at the end of this article.
What Employers Should Be Doing
The world is becoming increasingly digital, and many companies are now expanding their remote work opportunities indefinitely. Thus, it is important that a company’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies specifically prohibit online harassment as well. Company training requirements should also include materials that apply to all work environments, in office or remote. In addition, employers should provide a clearly articulated process for reporting harassment. Within this process there should be multiple channels for reporting and clear expectations for what a harassment investigation may look like. Both the reporting processes and investigation expectations depicted in a company’s anti-harassment policy should reflect the realities of both in office and remote employees. For example, if one of the investigation requirements is an in-person interview, your employer must review and revise the requirements to accommodate remote workers.
Tackling workplace harassment in the midst of a huge shift in working practices and norms will take time. However, remote work and digital harassment will not end with the pandemic. The sooner the battle for inclusive anti-harassment policy extends beyond offices, the better. Now, employers must also consider the email, video, and instant messaging platforms that power the modern workplace.
How a Lawyer Can Help
If you believe you are a victim of remote workplace harassment, make sure to record and preserve the evidence you have. This includes taking screenshots of inappropriate messages and emails. For the sake of your case, try your best to remain professional and calm. Next, contact an experienced attorney. An attorney will be able to review the individual circumstances and facts of your case and help you decipher the next best course of action. Again, to qualify as unlawful harassment, the offensive conduct must become a condition for continued employment, or make a reasonable person feel like their work environment is intimidating, hostile, and/or abusive. A seasoned lawyer will be able to look at your case and determine how successful your case may be in a court of law. If your case stands a chance, a lawyer will help you file important documents and build your strongest case possible.
The legal expertise of a lawyer who specializes in harassment and discrimination cases could ultimately save you time and money in the long-run. Moreover, if you are filing a harassment case against an employer, it is likely they will have legal representation. If you do not also have legal representation, you will be at a disadvantage. David Kaplan, attorney at law, has over 30 years of experience defending individuals who have had their rights infringed upon. David understands the societal shift to remote workplaces requires revised anti-harassment measures by employers because digital harassment is prevalent and pervasive. His expertise in unlawful harassment will guide and provide you with the justice you deserve. David Kaplan provides a free initial case consultation and is truly passionate about crafting strong, successful claims. For more information about Kaplan’s legal successes, areas of expertise, or to book your free consultation visit his website.