There’s been a surge in employees working remotely since COVID-19 hit the US. With a remote workforce comes new and unique challenges for ensuring that employees don’t violate federal or state anti-discrimination and harassment laws.
A few quick reminders:
- Unlawful workplace harassment must be unwelcome and based on a protected class such as race, gender, age, religion, national origin, or disability
- Harassment only becomes unlawful when tolerating it is a condition of continued employment. Or it’s so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would find a hostile, intimidating, or abusive
A big change for many companies with a newly remote workforce is the increase in virtual meetings using the video features in these meetings can be a great way to have employees be more connected but there are some pitfalls to avoid so employees don’t feel uncomfortable, harassed, or discriminated against in these meetings.
First, when working from home the desire to work in comfortable clothing could tip from casual to inappropriate.
There are numerous memes and stories about mistakes like this, employees with professional tops but no bottoms or family members dashing by in the buff. You can help employees out by being explicit about expectations and making sure they plan accordingly for the possibility of technology or wardrobe malfunctions.
Next ensure 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.
Another consideration ensure that virtual meetings are scheduled equitably.
For example if managers meetings with men are over the phone but video is mandatory for one on one’s with the women. That would be a cause for concern.
Finally virtual happy hours have become a common event to keep employees connected while working remotely.
Keep in mind that alcohol lessens inhibitions and interactions through a screen can also decrease the 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.
Here are some additional considerations.
- Review your company harassment and discrimination handbook policies and ensure they’re inclusive of and applicable to remote work and interactions
- Working remotely may expose who is more or less adept with technology and age may or may not correlate with tech skills whether it does or not. Keep an eye out for not so harmless jokes about employees ages to avoid age based harassment
Whether in or out of the office your best tool and defense is a solid harassment prevention policy and well-trained managers. If you don’t have a policy in place already, now is a great time to create one.