With millions of employees now working from home and using more messaging platforms than ever before, it’s really important employers and employees remain as vigilant about potential harassment and discrimination with remote working as they were in the office.
But just what are the risks involved with employees using these alternative communication channels at work, and how can you, as an employer, make sure you and your employees are aware of them? To help give you the answers, we asked Debbie Knowles, Managing Director of Employee Management Ltd, one of our business partners, to tell you what you need to know.
Lines have become blurred
With the increase in remote working, and different messaging platforms mentioned earlier, the scope for potential discrimination has grown. Apps like WhatsApp and Slack have previously mainly been used in a social setting but are now becoming more popular for work purposes. They feel less formal to employees and are often used for sharing jokes and GIFs, which they might not normally post in a work environment. This has led to an increased risk of discrimination complaints, as there’s always the risk of someone finding this content offensive or inappropriate.
Discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional
It’s important to note discrimination can happen without intent. Complaints of harassment based upon a protected characteristic, such as race or sex, can arise even if the perpetrator never meant to offend anyone.
It’s how it made the other person feel that’s important. What one person believes to be just good-humoured ‘banter’, another person may feel to be offensive, degrading or humiliating, and this can be enough to bring a claim of unlawful harassment.
Existing laws still apply
Harassment and discrimination in the workplace are covered by the Equality Act 2010. This makes it illegal for employees to be harassed or discriminated against because of the ‘protected characteristics’ of age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, race, religion and belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy and marital status. These laws apply to remote working in the same way as they do to any other workplace environment.
What can employer do to protect themselves?
Employers need to have robust policies in place, to make sure everyone in their workplace is aware of their responsibilities, and that the same rules and guidelines apply wherever their work takes place. Make sure regular training happens too, so employees keep focussed on the issue. It’s vital employers don’t just pay lip service to harassment and discrimination issues, as they’ll be vicariously liable for their employees’ actions during the course of their employment, and the financial compensation available in discrimination claims is unlimited.
Building a culture which actively fosters equality in the workplace will take long term commitment, but to protect themselves against the increased risk associated with remote working, employers should consider the following as key:
Help is available
If you’d like help with harassment and discrimination issues in your business, please get in touch with Debbie and her team.
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