Online harassment: A remote working risk for employers

Patrick Whelan

December 15 2020

Coming to the end of 2020, it’s hard to believe how much the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way the world works.

These changes, as you may have guessed, impact your obligations as an employer.

One major issue to consider is how having more employees working from home affects these obligations.

New environment, new attitude?

Making the move to work from home means many things.

Among them is the new working environment and how employees communicate with each other.

It’s reasonable that reduced face time between employees would lead to a decrease in sexual harassment issues. However, here at Peninsula, we’re receiving reports that this is not the case. 

Unfortunately, sexual harassment in the workplace still affects those working from home.

One explanation for this phenomenon may be that staff grow complacent while working in casual clothes from the comfort of their own home.

From an employer’s perspective, this means it’s important to remind staff of their professional standards. Employees need to remain professional, even when working remotely.

Communication channels

Common communication channels have always been:

  • Email
  • Phone
  • Video calls

This year, your staff have likely never relied on them so much.

New methods of communication are occurring in online environments. Due to this, professionalism when communicating with colleagues may slip. 

As a result, the risk of inappropriate comments increases along with the risk of someone taking offence.

Workplace standards apply to the home office

Working from home doesn’t mean your employees should relax your workplace standards. In fact, it’s vital that you regularly remind your homeworkers to adhere to the same office policies and procedures.

Employees should understand that there are consequences if they breach any internal policies. It's also easier to carry out a disciplinary process if staff are aware of potential disciplinary action. 

Be sure to reaffirm this with your disciplinary rules and procedures

Dignity and respect at work policies

Resending your dignity and respect at work policy to all employees is also a good idea to remind them:

  1. Of the standards they must meet.
  2. That all correspondence with colleagues needs to remain professional.

Training that focuses on improving dignity and respect can be highly useful if feasible for your business. It will also allow you to update employees about how online communications can amount to harassment.

It looks as though remote working will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

This is why it’s important to ensure employees are aware of the professional standards expected of them. 

These standards are no less important when working from home and using new forms of communication.

New Code of Practice on Bullying in the Workplace

The Health and Safety Authority and Workplace Relations Commission recently produced a unified code of practice titled the 'Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work'.

Interestingly, the new Code of Practice specifically states that bullying activities can include the use of cyber or digital means for the goal of bullying.

Cyberbullying is therefore a recognised type of ‘improper conduct’ which employers have a duty to prevent (as far as reasonably practicable) under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

Need our help?

If you’re a Peninsula client, you can call our 24/7 helpline for instant, unlimited advice on all your homeworking, HR, and health & safety questions.

But if you’re not a client, you can still claim a free advice call with one of our HR or health safety experts today.

To speak to an expert now, call 0818 923 923.

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