Sexual Harassment in the New Normal
When corporate India has embraced work from home, thanks to the Covid-19 and resulting lockdown, sexual harassment has embraced virtual forms. Several newspapers report that virtual harassment complaints have spiked as several organizations switched from physical workplace to remote or virtual workplace during this new normal.
When organizations are diligently addressing a whole lot of operational issues to keep away anything that affects the productivity of employees, it is important for them to keep a check on sexual harassment at workplace as well. A safe work environment, physical or virtual, is as crucial for productivity as a reputed anti-virus software or a high-speed internet connectivity. If employers believe that sexual harassment is out of the question when working remotely during the new normal, recent news reports have proven them wrong. The only change remote working has brought is that sexual harassment looks different now.
Forms of Sexual Harassment in the New Normal
This brings us to the questions of how, why and what:
- How is virtual harassment possible?
- Why is there an increased number of virtual harassments in the new normal?
- What can be done to mitigate it?
While working remotely, sexual harassment takes new forms like offensive images shared via messages, cracking inappropriate jokes in a conference call to ‘lighten the mood’, calls at odd hours in the pretext of meeting or insisting employees to get into video calls. Getting into video calls in front of a wall with offensive slogans or images, recording video calls without the participants’ permission, dressing indecently in a video call are some of the many ways perpetrators can make co-workers uncomfortable.
When the line between workplace and personal life has blurred during the new normal and employees tend to let their guards down, some may feel that the usual workplace norms do not apply anymore. The sense of accountability of their behaviour disappears making the interactions more informal and sometimes inappropriate.
Employers need to take some time to remind them that organizational policies are intact, as long as business runs. Ready access of alcohol during work hours also clouds the judgement resulting in unacceptable behaviours. We all have seen or heard jokes about alcohol being the coping strategy for these challenging times.
Lack of awareness about what constitutes workplace is another reason. Many still do not know that when working remotely, any space of interaction between co-workers, clients, vendors, etc. are also considered workplace. Challenges in monitoring workplace conduct, absence of witnesses and the concerned authorities’ lack of knowledge in handling virtual harassments are some other reasons perpetrators find online platforms a comfortable medium to be “creepy”.
Looking at how online harassment has become rampant; it is more important than before to sensitize employees on the relevance of preventing and penalty attached to sexual harassment at workplace. This time, the emphasize should be given to preventing and reporting online or virtual harassment. Clear definitions of sexual harassment and workplace, and acceptable and unacceptable behaviours while working remotely can be the focus. Training should also reiterate the complaining procedures and mention about any amendments made because of the shift in work environment during this new normal.
eLearnPOSH is committed to enable organizations successfully implement POSH at their workplace. Staying true to our commitment to empower organizations we have come up with a micro-learning module on POSH Awareness for Remote Workforce. A 5-minute training with attractive animations, rich visuals and interactive activities, the module educates the employees about all the necessary aspects to create a safe workplace without taking a lot of time from employees’ precious working hours. Reach out to us to know more.