Workplace Harassment While Working from Home

Many businesses have switched to a work-from-home model, at least temporarily, due to the pandemic. Company policies may require a review to ensure they align with this changing reality.

Reduced oversight and control will pose challenges for employers with respect to ensuring a safe and harassment-free workplace. However, employers can curtail some of these difficulties by implementing preventative policies and internal mechanisms aimed at properly addressing and resolving any complaints.

Workplace Harassment

Despite more businesses being forced to move to virtual and remote workspaces, employees are still protected from harassment and sexual harassment under laws such as the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the Canada Labour Code.

Harassment is not limited to unwanted comments or conduct within a physical space. Workers can still be harassed or sexually harassed in a work-from-home environment, including through video conferencing, emails, online chat platforms, and social media.

The increase in various virtual platforms might make identifying and monitoring harassment more difficult, particularly when witnesses might not be present during the incident. However, employers must still take proactive steps to maintain a harassment-free workplace environment, and must still properly address any complaint they receive.

Workplace Policies and Investigations

To ensure complaints of workplace harassment are meaningfully addressed, employers must have a proper complaint procedure in place and must assess what type of workplace investigation might be appropriate.

Any complaint procedure should be amended to reflect the changing reality of alternative workspaces. Policy changes may address online communications, the process of submitting any complaints, privacy and confidentiality systems, and the procedure that will be followed once a complaint is received.

Employers should have clear and concise workplace harassment policies and complaint processes that reflect their changing industries and workspaces, whether physical or virtual. Policies and complaint procedures should be easily accessible by workers, as well as reviewed and updated regularly.   

While drafting and implementing workplace policies with consideration to virtual workspaces, employers must comply with various statutes. As such, it is important for employers to consult with legal professionals who can assist with updating policies to reflect the changing workplace landscape, and who can ensure appropriate steps are taken for the business to prevent any workplace issues.  

Contact Us for Help

If you are an employer needing assistance with your policies or workplace investigation procedures, or an employee seeking to clarify your workplace rights, our team of lawyers can help you navigate your matter. Contact us at 1 (800) 771-7882, or email [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support, visit our CLO program page for our strategic solutions.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call 1-(800)771-7882, or email [email protected].