Introduction of cloud-based software has led way to the era of working remotely. About one third of the global workforce has worked remotely at least for a short period of time proving that it is the new reality. Surveys even found that working remotely has increased the job satisfaction and organizational commitment among employees. The trend of remote working has changed some things, some remain the same. Following a code of conduct and practicing professional etiquette do not change no matter where you are working from.
Organization still has the responsibility to prevent sexual harassment and employees should still be able to enjoy a harassment-free workplace. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 clearly defines workplace as “any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for the purpose of commuting to and from the place of employment”. The Act is applicable when employees communicate among each other using the tools assigned for official purposes, like email ID, video conference software and text messaging tools.
The law was defined keeping in mind that sexual harassment can occur digitally as well. Sending an offensive image via email, inappropriate comment about an employee’s clothing while on video conference, continuous attempts to flirt with employees via official text message tools, etc. are examples of digital sexual harassment. This means organizations should stay vigilant about potential problems of harassment while working remotely as well.
Here are a few measures organizations can take to handle sexual harassment effectively while working remotely.
Update the policy
Ensure that the policy addresses virtual harassment by employees. The policy should reflect offensive online behavior as a prohibited behavior. If the policy says that the complaint must be physically handed over by the complainant to the IC or interviews and IC meetings should be in-person, it is time to relook at them and update the policy. Working remotely should not be an obstacle to stay POSH compliant.
Whether working remotely or not, employees should be trained regularly on Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH). This is because some employees may feel that the rules are relaxed when working environment is different. If your organization prefers classroom training for POSH, you may want to make sure that employees have undergone training before they start working remotely. If there are employees who are getting onboarded virtually, consider giving a virtual classroom training using video conference tools. Since, working remotely is becoming more and more popular, eLearning is a more viable option to ensure regular and uninterrupted training. Check out our eLearning courses on POSH.
Reinforce the Policy and Check–In Regularly
Managers should set clear expectations about appropriate behaviour while working remotely and reinforce that the organizational policy on POSH remains same. Advise them to think before making a comment or sharing pictures and jokes via online to avoid making any co-worker uncomfortable. Remind employees that communication tools meant for official purposes are to be used responsibly. Do not ignore inappropriate behavior just because they are working remotely. Call it out and warn them about the consequences if such behaviours are repeated.
Managers can also conduct regular check-ins with team members about their remote work experience and immediately address any issues.
A Code of Conduct
Organizations may want to share a set of rules and regulations employees should follow while working remotely. Here are a few suggestions:
- The host of the video conference meeting should lock the sharing options so that others cannot share screen’s without host’s permission (if the tool allows it).
- Mention the appropriate dress code while conducting video calls. Remind to check the background before turning camera on to avoid exposing offensive posters or pictures on the walls.
- Give the employees a choice to turn the camera off during video calls.
- Inform the employees about any changes in the redressal mechanism for sexual harassment complaints while working remotely.
Active Redressal Mechanism
Finally, ensure that the redressal mechanism is active even while employees are working remotely. Do not fall for the temptation to write of an offensive comment as a joke or to delay the investigation until the employee is back in office. Take complaints seriously, investigate thoroughly and handle appropriately.
To sum up, harassers do not differentiate between harassment in workplace or virtually. Delay in addressing issues can empower harassers and result in things going out of hand. Follow best practices while working at office or remotely to prevent sexual harassment. The only thing an organization should be doing differently is to be more vigilant while employees are working remotely.