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What Employers Need to Know to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Virtual Workplace

By George Khoury, Esq. on May 17, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Even though a virtual office employee can work from home in their underwear, broadcasting that fact to co-workers is rarely, if ever, appropriate. As virtual offices have become increasingly commonplace in the world of business, employers have been facing new and unique employment problems in the virtual workplace.

In addition to ensuring that employees maintain productivity while telecommuting, employers need to ensure that the virtual work environment does not expose them to liability from employee lawsuits. A common problem in virtual office environments is sexual harassment. Surprisingly, even non-human virtual assistants face an alarming amount of sexual harassment.

Make Sexual Harassment Training Mandatory

Even if your employees may never meet ofline, in a virtual office setting, training employees on what constitutes sexual harassment is just as important. Your sexual harassment training should include an explanation of your virtual office's specifically tailored policies. Depending on the type of technology being used by your business and employees, your policies may vary on what is and what isn't appropriate.

In a virtual environment, it can be helpful to educate employees about how to use various modes of communication, such as text message, instant messenger, e-mail, social media messaging, video chat, and the old fashioned telephone. For instance, if one employee repeatedly video calls a co-worker when a text or instant message would suffice, this could be cause for concern.

Be Able to Monitor Employee Communication

Thankfully, for employers, much of the communication between co-workers in virtual office environments will be via e-mail, or some form of written chat. If an employer uses the right hardware or software, they will be able to more closely monitor employee communications.

Employers should be mindful that active monitoring of employee communications can lead to distrust among workers towards management. However, reviewing an employee's communications after an incident can quickly corroborate a complaint and allow swift action to be taken. In lieu of having the eyes and ears of nearby co-workers to corroborate complaints as you might in a normal office environment, a virtual office can rely on the electronic record.

Provide Clear Reporting Mechanisms

In a live office environment, most employees know that they can walk over to HR and file a complaint. However, in a virtual office environment, employees may be unclear about how to report harassment, or other grievances. Providing a clear reporting mechanism can help a company identify and remedy sexual harassment. Also, companies that encourage victims to come forward are sending a clear signal to harassers that victim complaints will be heard and acted upon.

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