When you hear the term “Workplace Harassment”, what image comes to mind? For many, it’s an image of people in an office environment, perhaps inappropriate remarks, bullying or intimidation, or perhaps an inappropriate hug. The COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated the standard 9-5 workday in a physical office, in fact due to restrictions on gatherings and social distancing requirements, in-person workplace interactions are prohibited. Thus, it’s important to alter our train of thought to what workplace harassment constitutes in the “work from home culture.”
The COVD-19 pandemic has altered the ways in which companies of all sizes operate. These changes provide organizations with unprecedented challenges, one of which includes the monitoring, prevention, and training of workplace harassment. Despite working from the comfort of one’s own home, harassment and bullying can still exist amongst employees and employers. Emails, social media, text messages, video and chat platforms to communicate are just a few examples where an employee can be subjected to harassment or sexual harassment.
The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) defines workplace harassment as “engaging in a course of vexatious comments or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” The term “workplace” in the OHSA definition can translate to any location, whether travelling for work or working from home, where an employee is receiving remuneration for their duties. Accordingly, the work-from-home model necessitates all employees are protected from harassment and sexual harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), Ontario Human Rights Code, the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
While online tools of communication were present and widely used prior to the pandemic, the increase of use could make it easier for employees to bully or harass, as they may recognize the fact, they don’t have to see the victim or their employer face-to-face. In addition, home may feel like a more comfortable or relaxed workplace environment, especially for individuals able to dress more casually, compared to their typical workplace wardrobe. These factors, can contribute to individuals neglecting to follow appropriate workplace harassment policies and procedures.
To ensure employers are supporting a healthy and safe work-from-home environment for their employees, here are some recommendations to follow:
- Remind staff of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment policies. Advise all employee’s that despite different locations, all of the policies and guidelines remain in force.
- Provide opportunity for daily check-in’s between employee’s and management so staff are aware they have someone to talk to about any concerns.
- Advise all staff to be attentive of themselves and others, as bullying can take different forms.
- As an employee or employer, if an incident of harassment occurs, an essential action would be to immediately screenshot, or digitally record the occurrence. The screenshots of messages or images can be used as evidence to report to your manager or pertinent to an investigation.
The work from home culture comes with advantages and disadvantages. Nonetheless, employers must act with due diligence and place all possible measures in place to safeguard their employee’s well-being as unfortunately, no one is immune to the risk of bullying or harassment, while in their own homes.
In the event of a complaint or allegation, employers have the legal obligation to conduct an appropriate and thorough investigation. Thus, The Investigators Group (IGI) remains open during the pandemic to act as an impartial and objective party to conduct investigations safely and efficiently.
By Sean Gladney, Vice-President, The Investigators Group Inc.
For more information regarding workplace harassment investigations, you can contact Sean via email at email@example.com
The Investigators Group Inc. (IGI) was established in 1995 as a full service private investigation and security firm serving individuals across North America. We serve the legal, insurance and corporate communities as well as individuals through our civil and executive services. IGI provides professional surveillance services, fraud investigators, workplace investigations, undercover operations, loss prevention and security services.
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