Bullying and Harassment in the New Normal | Seyfarth Shaw LLP


As a result of the shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, an interesting question arises as to whether we will also see a change in the nature and frequency of bullying and harassment in the workplace. We anticipate that international employers will not only see an increase, but also that their efforts to investigate bullying / harassment will be more complex.

Will the distributed workforce lead to increased bullying / harassment?

Logically, those who engage in bullying / harassment are unlikely to stop doing so simply because of these new working arrangements. Indeed, the almost universal adoption of video calling as part of daily business communication across the world will, where appropriate, provide fertile ground for not only an increase in bullying / harassment, but also significant challenges in detecting it. and fight them.

The fact that one-on-one work interactions can now happen in such a private fashion may mean that the absence of normal societal controls over bad behavior is leading to a marked increase in these problems and their severity.

Reduced ability to have discreet face-to-face conversations with HR, other colleagues, etc. means that unplanned conversations have become much rarer, which means that it is also conceivable that unwanted behavior will not be controlled for much longer than before.

The detrimental impact of such behavior can also be exacerbated for those who feel isolated, who work from home and are unable to confide in other colleagues. The house is probably no longer the refuge it once was.

Surveys

Bullying / harassment investigations are, on the whole, more difficult in the virtual context.

Problems that can arise from a distributed workforce include, but are not limited to:

  • Complaints potentially spanning a much longer period of time due to uncontrolled unwanted behavior.
  • Despite advances in video technology, there is still no substitute for face-to-face meetings given the value of non-verbal communication, and the survey parameters are no different.
  • Trying to set up face-to-face meetings (if possible) may cause delays in the investigation, given the potential logistical challenges of arranging the days when affected people are present in the office.
  • If investigations are conducted virtually, not only may there be problems with the quality of the evidence obtained, but maintaining confidentiality will be difficult given the lack of the ability to control who is in the room.
  • Preventing employees from recording meetings has been a growing challenge in recent years as technology has improved, but in a remote environment it will be very difficult to prevent it.
  • It seems inevitable that employers around the world will face difficult questions as to what evidence can and cannot be relied on, especially given the different thresholds of confidentiality that exist in different jurisdictions. Not only may employees have made their own secret video call recordings, there may be situations where a person wishes to request evidence from a third party, for example, their partner, friend, or other person with whom he lives, who may also have been present / hearing what was said. This may then give rise to secondary considerations, such as whether the fact that a third party has overhead on such matters is in itself a cause of action against the complainant, as this may prove its own violation. confidentiality.
  • As technological advancements continue, the potential for employees to create fake “evidence,” such as edited video calls, social media snippets, and audio recordings also increases.

What Should Global Employers Do?

Global employers should consider what is available to them (keeping local laws in mind) with respect to the means to monitor behavior as well as provide communication channels through which issues can be raised.

Employers should consider offering options (which are clearly communicated to employees) such as filing a complaint with a manager or HR, but also having a confidential hotline managed by email or phone by a third parties where complaints can be made anonymously, always subject to local law. Policy communications provided by senior executives such as the Global Director of Human Resources, who explain company standards and encourage employees to report wrongdoing on their own behalf or on behalf of others, can also be helpful. . Dealing with complaints in a timely and consistent manner will always be the key.

As companies move past their probationary periods and begin to formalize these new working arrangements, they should be sure to update workplace policies and procedures to include examples of inappropriate behavior that occurs. in remote environments (especially video calls) and the standards expected by the employer. Employers should also try to ensure that all employees have attended and keep a record of workplace behavior training.

Above all, global employers need more than ever to remain flexible and creative when it comes to dealing with bullying and harassment in the workplace.


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