Remote working does not prevent harassment

Remote working doesn’t necessarily put the brakes on harassment. On the contrary. Even with remote work, certain co-workers may be disrespectful, if not harassing.

A recent survey by l’Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés (CRHA) reveals that 29% of Quebec workers were either victims or witnesses of cyber harassment in 2020. That number was 18% in 2016. A significant jump.

“Cyber harassment usually appears in the form of hostile, repetitive and unwanted correspondence, whether by text messages, emails, calls or comments on social media and during chat sessions,” explains Jonathan Plamondon, CRIA, accredited mediator. “Unfortunately, the pandemic environment and the resulting stress can promote this type of behaviour.”

Hence the importance, according to Mélanie Laliberté, CRHA, director, management support at Desjardins, “to continue to prevent and condemn harassment, even in the context of remote work”.

Prevention through education

According to Jonathan Plamondon, education is the first step in the fight against cyber harassment. “The first step is to explain the phenomenon to all members of an organization, as much to employers as to managers and employees, so that everyone can target it.”

Define (in)appropriate behaviours

Mélanie Laliberté couldn’t agree more. “Education is the first step in prevention,” she says. “Second, the company’s expectations of desirable (or unacceptable behaviours) must be clarified.” The ban on writing hateful comments against a colleague on Facebook, for example.

Implement a cyber harassment management process

The two human resources professionals also agree that companies have a duty to implement a confidential process for managing remote harassment, from complaint to investigation, to the consequences for the employee at fault (verbal notice, written notice, coaching, dismissal). “This process must obviously comply with the Act respecting labour standards and the needs of the organization,” specifies Jonathan Plamondon.

Keep in close contact

Managers should also be well equipped to respond effectively remotely. Mélanie Laliberté recommends that they organize regular videoconferences with their team. “This will make it easier for them to detect deterioration in the work environment,” she says.

Don’t bury your head in the sand

Most importantly, both experts urge employers to take cyber harassment seriously, since the repercussions can be harmful both to the victim (trauma, work stoppage, loss of esteem) and to the entire organization (decrease in motivation and productivity, bad employer brand, a series of resignations).

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