There has been an increase in digital harassment in remote and hybrid workforce models. There are four ways to prevent this.

Digital workplace harassment is on the rise as businesses embrace remote and hybrid workplace arrangements. According to Statista, over the last two years, the issue of digital harassment in the workplace has become more visible than ever.

Employers need to update their policies to cover digital harassment as more workers go remote, but prevention of in-office harassment has been a focus of organizations for decades. We spoke with the senior counsel of the company to find out how businesses can protect themselves and their employees from harassment in the digital workplace.

Increased technology leads to increased digital harassment

Factors such as race, color, religion, sex, age or disability status can be used to determine whether or not a workplace harassment is based on an individual’s protected characteristics. “If an employee is made to endure the conduct as a condition of employment or continued employment, or the conduct becomes so severe or pervasive that it creates a work environment a reasonable person would consider to be intimidating, hostile or abusive, then that conduct becomes illegal,” says Natelson.

Digital harassment uses technologies like text, phone, video messaging, email and social media to take these behaviors to a virtual medium. Comments on an individual’s status or personal objects that are visible in the background of a video conference call, as well as publishing blog posts or social media posts about employees’ protected characteristics are examples that are diverse.

Digital harassment may focus on an employee’s caretaking responsibilities when they’re interrupted by children or elders during meetings or it may involve the grooming gap, where women might receive disproportionate comments on their appearance during conference calls compared to male colleagues.

Instances of digital harassment have risen recently

Increased remote and hybrid work has led to an increase in digital harassment. Work-from- home arrangements allow a window into employees’ lives, and in some cases, the increase in these arrangements has opened the door to digital harassment.

The ability to see religious icons, home settings, family members, and other factors that may connect directly to an individual’s characteristics is one element of this dynamic. As more communications go digital, conversations are also becoming more informal, and interactions that are more personal than professional have more potential to develop into harassment.

“If individuals are not fully informed or trained on their responsibility to be professional and not to engage in any kind of improper conduct in these environments, this could be a breeding ground for harassing or discriminating behavior,” says Natelson.

4 strategies for preventing digital harassment

There are many strategies for preventing harassment, which is good news for employers. There are some tactics to consider.

1. Update your policies and training

Raising awareness of it and being clear that it is against the law is the first step in preventing digital harassment. It’s important that organizations look at their anti-harassment and anti- discrimination policies to ensure that they are up to date and encompass the different types of work environments employees are working in. Adding digital harassment to workplace and manager anti-harassment training can be done either by integrating it into existing training or as an additional mandatory module.

2. Encourage management to take an active role in preventing digital workplace harassment

When organizations rely on technology and ask employees to complete work tasks in their home environment, management needs to be sensitive to comments or dynamics that focus on any individual’s protected characteristics They need to be ready to step in.

Natelson says that managers should receive training on anti-harassment procedures. “If a manager witnesses harassing conduct, they should stop that conduct, whether it be to cut off a conversation that is going in the wrong direction or to ask somebody to leave a conversation if they are engaging in conduct that is not appropriate.”

3. Have a process for responding to incidents

Natelson suggests that businesses should respond to digital workplace harassment the same way they would respond to in-office complaints. Employees should know how to report incidents and how their complaints will be taken seriously. If an issue is found to be problematic, it should be investigated immediately.

HR teams need to follow best practices for investigating and addressing workplace harassment, as well as taking all digital aspects of the issue into account. “Make sure you have good retention policies for workplace emails, text messages and messaging platforms so that if you have an investigation and need to go back and see what went on, you’re able to access those items as well.”

4. Expand channels for reporting an issue

Employees who experience harassment may not want to report it. An employee who relied on a face-to-face conversation with HR may look for alternatives.

Individuals are more likely to step forward when organizations provide more options for reporting. All employees should be able to schedule a one-on-one video conference with HR, call HR, or send an email to their manager.

What employees should do if they experience digital harassment

There may be fewer people to witness harassing behavior when you use digital technologies. Any type of documentation that the employee can put together is going to be critical, even if it’s notes taken at the time when it happened to document what happened. Contingency notes are a great way to make sure that you have some sort of documentation that can be relied on, and not just your account, which may be removed from the moment when something happened.

It is a good idea to keep a copy of all written correspondence related to an incident, such as the initial report to HR and any related conversations that follow.

Digital workplace harassment can be a problem in remote and hybrid environments. Proactively acknowledging the issue, updating policies and training, and taking time to educate managers and employees on this important issue can dramatically reduce these incidents. Digital harassment prevention needs to remain a priority as organizations develop new strategies to ensure a flourishing culture in remote and hybrid work environments.

Taking action is what you should do.

Your organization’s policies and trainings should be up to date. The Importance of Effective Sexual Harassment Prevention Training and Employee Handbooks: 10 Must-Have Policies for 2022 are both included in this article.

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