In this guest blog, Define the Line Co-Founder Nikki Larchar explores the challenge of tackling and preventing online sexual harassment – an issue that has become increasingly prevalent with the increased need for employees to work from home. Here Nikki shares her invaluable insight as well as essential advice and top tips for tackling harassment in the digital realm.

As you and your team begin adjusting to remote work, creating a positive virtual workplace is just as important as making sure everyone can still communicate with one another. With many companies adopting online communication via Skype, Microsoft Teams, Slack and more, it’s time to make sure that your employees know where you stand when it comes to online harassment.

Remote workers around the globe are navigating new normals and learning how to communicate with one another in a virtual landscape. And even though your workers may not see one another in real life, it doesn’t mean that they’ve magically stopped harassing.

“A survey last year found that 40% of American adults had experienced online abuse, with almost half of them receiving severe forms of harassment, including physical threats and stalking. Seventy percent of women described online harassment as a “major problem”.” – BBC

Update your sexual harassment policy

Many of the policies that are widely used in organizations today only include examples of harassment for teams that see one another in person. Updating your current policy to include language and examples of how harassment shows up in your remote workplace is one step you can take to ensure your employees understand that all forms of harassment are against the rules.

Communicate the rules, expectations, and your newly updated sexual harassment policy

Remind employees of the rules and expectations for their communication with one another. Whether it’s via email, chat, or group message, employees should follow the same guidelines you have in place for employees that work side by side. If you make updates to your harassment policy (and you should, please see above) be sure to share the updates with your team.

Tip: set calendar reminders to send communication to your employees about how they can report behavior. Talking about harassment once per year isn’t doing anyone any help. Be sure to communicate frequently so employees know the rules and know who they can turn to in times of need.

Monitor group chats

Things are going awry in group chats. From memes being sent that are intended to be funny but are in fact discriminatory or harassing, to inappropriate questions being asked of coworkers, your team has a computer screen that’s serving as a safety blanket. For many, saying things in a virtual platform is easier than saying something directly to someone’s face. As you monitor what is being shared among your team, it is just as important to take notice of when employees disengage from communication and interaction. Disengaging from interacting with the group or with individuals can indicate that someone has experienced harassment or discrimination. It’s time to send a quick personal message to check-in with the individual.

Create a feedback survey

Checking in with your team can be as easy as creating a short survey. Platforms like Survey Monkey, Typeform and Google Forms have made it easy (and affordable!) to gain the insights you need to ensure all your employees feel safe and secure at their workplace. Questions like, “have you recently or in the past experienced any XXX (insert type of harassment or discriminatory behavior) from your coworkers, customers, and/ or management team? If so, what happened?” or “Have you witnessed any inappropriate comments or images shared via email, chat, text message, or online? And if so, what was it?”

Tip: at the end of the survey include information about how employees can file complaints, who they can get in touch with if they need to talk to someone, and include your anti-retaliation language from your harassment policy.

Open an investigation

If you have any employees who file a complaint or if an issue becomes known to you, it’s your responsibility to take action and open an investigation. Depending on your organization, you may need to loop in management and/or your legal team. If you’ll be conducting the investigation yourself we recommend documenting communication and information and following specific step-by-step procedures. If you need help knowing which step is next or need assistance with keeping track of all the steps you need to take to do an investigation, we have a checklist already created! You can access the Define the Line Investigation Checklist by joining our community of allies and advocates, here.

As your team continues to feel the impact of remote work and the complexities it’s adding to their day-to-day operations, taking these steps can ensure that your team understands what harassment is, how they can report if something happens, and what actions will be taken to ensure employees have a safe and secure virtual workplace.

Interested in learning more?

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