In ‘normal’ times a request for home working/remote working would typically take time to consider and set up, while the business and the employee discuss what steps would need to be put in place in terms of technology, support, communication, ‘fit’ with the role requirements and whether this would work for both parties before a decision was made. Often when it was a ‘yes’ this new way of working might have been on a trial basis, while both parties considered if it was working and had the opportunity to monitor, review and tweak the arrangements.
We are living in extraordinary times. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about urgent and sudden changes in our ways of working, with remote working (i.e. working from home) being required by businesses so that they can keep working through these difficult days.
Some degree of planning by the business may have taken place in the short period before remote working was implemented, but for many this new way of working has required employees to adapt to working from home, deal with technology and online systems and consider work life balance (working but also being available for family members who are also at home) with no or minimal preparation.
Managers need to be available to support their staff, maintain regular contact and help minimise the potential feelings of isolation and anxiety. Organisations also need to be aware that Managers themselves may also be working remotely for the first time, feel anxious and overwhelmed, yet are trying to manage and support their team members. HR Departments, working remotely, need to consider the well-being of all employees. At this time when people are naturally experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety, how individuals are interacting and treating each other is critical.
HR Departments need to be aware of the risk of bullying and harassment of remote workers which can often be more subtle in this scenario. HR must proactively support Managers and Staff to minimise the risk of bullying and harassment and communicate the support available to deal with this conduct if it occurs.
Harassment is any unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
Bullying is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour involving the misuse of power that can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened.
So, what could potentially constitute bullying or harassment of remote workers? Examples could include:
This conduct will take place at a time when remote workers believe they have limited/reduced access to HR Support (given that HR staff may also be working remotely). Critically, at a time where there is anxiety and uncertainty about whether some businesses will survive or face a redundancy programme, individuals may also feel reluctant or afraid to raise such issues.
So, what measures can organisations take to minimise the risk of bullying and harassment of remote workers? Organisations should consider a raft of wellbeing measures:
These are very challenging and worrying times for everyone. It is critical that we are mindful of and take steps to balance the demands of workload, homeschooling, looking after ourselves as well as other family members and elderly, vulnerable parents. Minimising the risk of bullying and harassment for remote workers can only help in achieving this balance.
This article is correct at 06/04/2020
The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island’s Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.