This week, a report emerged of an ex-employee at a global law firm who was dismissed and suspended from the profession for sending sexually explicit messages to a junior colleague over WhatsApp, highlighting whether more could be done to safeguard against workplace sexual harassment.
The news calls into question the measures firms must take when protecting their staff from the risk of gross misconduct in the workplace. While this incident took place before the pandemic, the Financial News reported that by June last year City bosses had already seen a spike in sexist chats since the start of mass remote working.
The opportunity for workplace harassment has transferred to online and instant messaging channels, where employees are exposed to a form of abuse, that is often much more direct and explicit, away from the common rooms and corridors of the office. As working from home continues to prevail, firms will need their safeguards to adapt to a “working-from-anywhere” model.
One of the largest ever global surveys of online harassment was published by Plan International in October last year, covering 14,000 girls and women aged 15-25 across 22 countries. The study revealed sobering findings that 58% reported being harassed or abused online and 50% of respondents said that online harassment was more common than street harassment.
Forbes wrote about covid’s impact on sexual harassment in December last year. Their article reveals that some people believe that the informalities of remote working encourage this type of behaviour, while others suggest more subtle forms have taken hold such as women being asked to show their whole body, not just her face, on zoom calls.
While the recent company to hit the headlines was from the legal sector, other cases are emerging constantly from a wide range of companies, which shows that this risk spans across all industries, not just the Financial Services.
In the same Forbes article, Ariel Weindling, CEO of harassment reporting platform #NotMe, recognises meeting and messaging recording technology as deterrents for perpetrators in the virtual world.
Surveillance technology that monitor employee communications are growing in demand to address the risks of staff working remotely, one of those risks is employee misconduct. Deploying recording technology to corporate devices such as mobiles is a positive step in the right direction to protecting employees from cyber sexual harassment in the workplace.
With the shift to online working and increased use of various virtual and mobile platforms to conduct business, firms should be aware of the online forms of harassment and abusive behaviour and address the increasing risk this poses to their employees.
Firms, no matter their sector, have a duty to protect their staff while at work, wherever this may be.
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