Remote work has expanded the workplace beyond the employer’s traditional physical location. Problems that afflict the traditional office or workspace, however, still affect remote work but in novel ways.
A more relaxed, less-supervised and distant remote workplace culture constitute a situation that is ripe for sexual harassment in the workplace. This may include inappropriate comments during a web conference, phone check in or slack message.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a report that identified two organizational risks that may cause harassment. First, the EEOC pointed out that virtual work occurs in decentralized and remote or isolated workplaces. Employees may feel or act unaccountable for their conduct at these locations. Often, they incorrectly believe that the usual workplace rules and behavior do not apply outside of a traditional worksite.
The EEOC found that alcohol consumption during or near work hours was the second factor. Working from home, for many employees, provides greater access to alcohol during work hours. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism is tempting.
Other causes include:
- Reduced civility and formality in an online environment.
- Absence of other workers and witnesses at remote workplaces.
- Difficulties in monitoring the conduct of remote workers.
- Insufficient information governing how supervisors should deal with online behavior.
Digital harassment is a remote work hazard. It includes conduct such as:
- Jokes in bad taste or comments in employee emails, chats, or texts.
- Sexual or racial innuendo in online worker forums.
- Obvious ridicule and exclusion such as intentionally muting co-workers during web meetings or defacing their profile picture.
- Distribution of offensive photographs, gifs or mems based on physical or protected characteristics.
Laws against workplace harassment apply regardless of whether the harassment is in person or digital. Courts may find that employers must take affirmative actions to prevent digital harassment after employers learn of the harassment. Also, the EEOC has stated that social media can promote toxic interactions and possible harassment.
Attorneys can assist employees who suffer workplace harassment. They may help them pursue their remedies under federal, New York or New Jersey laws.