Preventing Harassment and Discrimination in a Remote or Hybrid Workplace

Employee Culture in a Hybrid or Remote World

Preventing Harassment and Discrimination in a Remote or Hybrid Workplace

Employee doing remote harassment training

Elizabeth Bille

In recent years, many employers made hybrid or even remote-first workforces the status quo. This incredible shift in where and when employees work, and how teams work together, has already reaped many positive outcomes: increased productivity, lower operating costs, broader talent pools to recruit from, and greater flexibility for employees. By many accounts, hybrid work environments have been a win-win for employers and employees alike.

But the transition to more distributed workforces does bring with it new challenges for employers to navigate–and get ahead of. One of these challenges is addressing the emerging, and disturbing, HR trend of online workplace harassment–all while legal compliance in this area is becoming more complex.

The growing problem of online harassment

Unfortunately, when employees transitioned to remote work environments en masse, so too did workplace harassment. According to one study, 25% of employees reported they have already experienced more gender-based harassment when working remotely, 10% reported increased race or ethnicity-based harassment, and 23% of employees who are over age 50 reported an uptick in harassment based on their age.

Remote work arrangements are likely creating the conditions for online harassment to flourish. Interestingly, the EEOC started warning employers in 2016 in its Select Taskforce Report that workplaces that are decentralized and workspaces that are isolated or remote have an increased risk of harassment.

Why might this be? It is likely caused by several factors, including:

  • Employees feeling less accountable for their behavior in a remote environment
  • Casualness and decreased civility of online communications
  • Lack of witnesses in remote spaces
  • Challenges in monitoring remote employee conduct
  • Constant digital access to employees, including after hours
  • Employees mistakenly believe the usual workplace policies and behavior expectations don’t apply outside the walls of a worksite.

Practical examples of online harassment

So, how is online harassment different from in-person harassment? What can it look or sound like in a remote work environment?

  • Insults in a chat feed
  • Sharing inappropriate memes, gifs, or photos
  • Texting jokes or offensive comments
  • Commenting negatively on pictures or religious/cultural items in a video background
  • Cyberstalking

New compliance challenges in a remote environment

A dispersed workforce is also creating challenges for employers who must comply with state workplace harassment prevention training mandates. Many states such as California, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maine, and cities such as New York City and Chicago, require employers to provide workplace training on harassment to employees and supervisors. The mandatory content of that training differs by location.

Now that many organizations have employees working across the nation, this makes delivery of compliant employee training even more complex. With a more dispersed employee base, convening teams together for in-person training sessions is much more expensive and impractical than before. In addition, employers may be subject to new harassment training mandates since their employees relocated to new states. For example, a supervisor in California may now have a team of employees working in New York, Connecticut, and Illinois–and each employee must receive unique information for where they work. And let’s be honest: telling certain employees during training to just “tune out” to information that is not relevant to them is a recipe for disengaged learners.

So how do employers comply with these legal training mandates? How do they get their employees the information they need while keeping them engaged? And, equally importantly, what can employers do to prevent the dramatic increase in online harassment from occurring in their remote or hybrid work environments?

A key solution: online workplace harassment prevention training

A great way to help address all of these tough organizational challenges is through digital training.

Implementing a well-designed and administered online employee training program enables you to save time, money, and effort. It can:

  • Easily and cost-effectively reach your employees wherever they now work, whether in an office, at a remote worksite, or at home. Check to make sure your workplace training is optimized for mobile devices for maximum reach.
  • Provide consistent anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training content and learning experiences across your workforce, avoiding the inconsistencies that may occur from different in-person trainers.
  • Ensure each employee receives the unique information they need to meet state or city laws wherever they are located.

An online employee training program can also build the awareness, knowledge, and skills in your workforce that is so critical for actually preventing the behaviors that can lead to harassment and discrimination in any work environment today.

As leaders of your organization, it is imperative to provide employees and managers with the training they need to encourage a collaborative and safe workplace, wherever they work. Doing so will help keep your employees engaged, retained, and productive–and your organization compliant with the law.

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