April 13, 2020

preventing digital harassment working from home

With millions of employees working from home during (and possibly after) the COVID-19 pandemic, managing a remote workforce is one of the new challenges facing employers and HR professionals. A modern, online training program can help the process by educating employees on new policies and procedures and reinforcing the expectation that standards of professional behavior apply when working from home. 

And organizations that are experiencing a slow period due to COVID-19 may want to take the opportunity to move up mandatory compliance training and roll out other relevant workplace conduct and culture topics.

As part of a comprehensive plan, here are six ways online compliance training can help your organization meet the challenges of a growing remote workforce: 

  1. Explain work-from-home policies
    Employees, many working from home for the first time, need to understand what remote workplace policies mean as they adjust to a different work environment. Remote work policies may cover topics such as keeping track of working hours, using video conferencing and other communication tools, staying connected with team members, accessing online health services and other guidelines to ensure a safe, productive work experience. Of course, remote work policies, like other essential policies and resources, should be accessible online 24/7.
  2. Raise awareness of digital harassment and cyberbullying 
    According to the EEOC, there are two types of sexual harassment, hostile work environment and quid pro quo, and neither depends on face-to-face interactions. Texting a sexual image to a co-worker at home is unwelcome behavior that creates a hostile work environment. Offering someone a choice assignment in exchange for a date via an internal team chat is an example of quid pro quo harassment (something for something). Digital or cyber harassment can also include trolling a co-worker’s personal accounts and creating false social media accounts. In commenting on a recent settlement involving internet harassment, the EEOC attorney said that “employee workdays and job sites are no longer defined by timecards and the walls of a building, but by the breadth of a digital day and the reach of electronic communications.”
  3. Clarify online complaint procedures
    One of the keys to preventing harassment, discrimination and other misconduct is to encourage and make it easy for employees to report incidents. Whether it’s implementing a complaint hotline, and/or a dedicated email address, or designating a manager, complaint procedures should be convenient and accessible 24/7 for all employees, wherever they work.
  4. Instill best practices for data privacy and security 
    Training employees on how to protect confidential and sensitive information is an important step in managing cyber security and data privacy risks, especially now when hackers are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic and targeting businesses and employees. There have been reports of cyber criminals hijacking Zoom meetings and sending out phishing emails claiming to be from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.  Effective information security training should provide examples of different types of phishing, malware and ransome attacks, explain the risks of using public networks to access sensitive data, and the need to recognize red flags before opening emails, clicking on links or opening attachments. Training should also include best practices for protecting devices and keeping company data and systems secure.
  5. Reinforce code of conduct and culture 
    During times of uncertainty, training can serve as an ongoing channel to communicate the organization’s values, principles and code of conduct. With the support of a strong ‘tone from the top’ that ethical behavior applies to everyone, wherever they are located, training serves to reinforce standards of respectful, inclusive behavior and the consequences for misconduct, whether it occurs in person, on a video conference or in an online chat, email or text.
  6. Empower bystanders 
    Common bystander intervention techniques — disrupt, confront, support and report —can all be applied if sexual harassment or other offensive conduct occurs in an online work environment. For example, an employee who sees or hears harassing comments being made during a video conference might disrupt the situation by changing the subject, or confront the harasser with a text letting them know their comments were out of line. The other bystander techniques — showing support and empathy and reporting the incident —  are positive actions that employees can easily take while working from home. And being an engaged bystander online may remove any hesitancy some people may have about intervening during face-to-face situations. 

Traliant Insight

A modern, online compliance training program can help HR keep employees and their organizations safe and productive during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. While technology makes it possible for many employees to work from home and stay connected, ongoing training and education are needed to protect sensitive data and information systems, maintain standards of professional behavior, and prevent sexual harassment, discrimination and other workplace misconduct.