The current environment has propelled many employees to telework full-time for many and for an extended period, for some. This new reality, which took hold without warning last spring, has not magically eliminated harassment situations in the workplace, quite the contrary. This may even be a perfect opportunity for a person with harassment behaviour, including the absence of witnesses during virtual exchanges between colleagues and co-workers, and managers’ intrusion into the workers’ private sphere. In addition, digital communications can sometimes be ambiguous, creating misunderstandings about the author’s actual tone and intent, which can escalate into a situation that can amount to harassment.
We should also note that the law recognizes, under certain conditions, the home of a teleworker as a workplace under Quebec legislation. Therefore, employers are held to the same obligations to their employees who telework as they are to employees who physically work in their establishment.
A question then arises: how can you, as an employer, continue to maintain the health and safety of employees who work remotely and have no direct contact in-person? Here are some answers:
1. Update Your Harassment Policy
Although the requirement to have a harassment and complaint handling policy was introduced in January 2019 for all employers, it’s important today to ensure the notion of telework is included in your policy. This update is the perfect opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of workplace civility, including in telework mode, the employer’s zero-tolerance for harassment behaviour, and the process to follow in the event of harassment. And why not take the opportunity to address digital communication standards in order to avoid conflict situations that may result from misunderstandings?
2. Equip Managers With Appropriate Tools
Because they are on the front lines and are ambassadors for your internal policies, including the harassment prevention policy, managers must understand their essential role in this area. They must be able to recognize conflict situations and intervene promptly to avoid escalating into situations of harassment. They should also be on the lookout for signs that one of their employees is in difficulty or experiencing a situation that undermines his or her health and/or safety. To do so, you must provide the required information and training to your managers..
3. Keep In Touch
It is crucial for managers to maintain a close link with their employees in telework mode. To do this, team meetings should be scheduled regularly. This allows the manager to assess their team members’ dynamics and see if a conflict or a toxic work environment problem is developing. They can then intervene well before the situation escalates. One-on-one meetings should also be scheduled regularly to allow more shy employees in the group to freely express themselves in problematic situations, if necessary.
These actions help preserve harmonious relationships between your employees, in addition to allowing you to meet your obligation to ensure their health and safety at work, despite the particular context we live in.