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EMPLOYMENT LAW UPDATE

Harassment continues in era of remote work

By Mike O’Brien

 In the early days of the pandemic, there was speculation that workplace harassment would decrease when so many workers shifted to remote work. Some recent surveys indicate that hasn’t been the case, and that incidents of harassment have been increasing.

Possible reasons for this spike include the stress of the pandemic, the fact that remote workers may lack the kind of personal connections with colleagues that might otherwise hinder poor behavior and a more casual approach to conversations due to working in a more relaxed environment.

Zoom meetings have also provided a whole new forum for trouble, with employees behaving badly (sometimes while thinking they are off-camera). The quick and unexpected shift to remote workforces may also have left many employers unprepared for the challenge. To combat harassment in the remote work era, employers should ensure that their policies expressly apply in remote work settings and that employees are trained to recognize remote harassment. Recognize that remote workers, especially those who have never worked in the office, might be more reluctant to trust their supervisor or HR representative with concerns. Minimize obstacles to reporting, and provide multiple avenues for concerns to be raised.

Interestingly, although internal reports of harassment appear to be on the rise, federal discrimination charges continued to fall nationally over the last year. Once again, retaliation, disability, and race charges were the most commonly asserted claims nationally. Possible explanations for the apparent disconnect between an increase in harassment incidents and a continued decrease in charges filed include that the job market is exceptionally strong for workers currently, and the economy is not in recession. Historically, those are factors that have correlated to a lower number of discrimination claims.

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