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Am I protected from harassment if I am a remote worker?

On Behalf of | May 20, 2024 | EEOC

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), responsible for enforcing U.S. anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, has emphasized the need to prevent harassment in virtual work environments. It is important that federal agencies take steps to proactively address this growing issue as more federal employees engage in remote and telework arrangements.

With the availability of remote work accelerated due to the pandemic, agencies are wise to address the following.

#1: Set the expectation for a harassment free remote workplace

Whether working remotely or in person, the same expectation of a harassment free environment applies. Remote workers are protected from harassment. It is important for agencies to make this expectation clear. Virtual work environments, including video meetings and online interactions, can be breeding grounds for harassment. Sexist, racist, or sexually demeaning comments during video meetings contribute to a hostile atmosphere and can rise to the level of illegal harassment.

It is important to note that efforts to stop harassment and create a harassment free workplace are not just the responsibility of human resources. Managers and supervisors must actively support the process once they become aware of any issues.

#2: Educate employees on how to report incidents of harassment

The EEOC recommends agencies educate employees on how certain actions within the remote environment can constitute harassment. This can include sexist, racist, or ageist comments made during video calls as well as offensive imagery within the employee’s workspace visible during the call.

In addition to the negative impact on the employee, acts of harassment also affect the federal agency itself. In addition to the cost of financial settlements, acts of harassment disrupt the workforce, leading to turnover and diverting attention from essential tasks. This highlights the benefits of proactive measures to reduce the risk of harassment in the first place.

Unfortunately, such measures are not always effective. Whether a victim of harassment despite these measures or in a federal agency that has failed to apply these measures, federal employees have the right to a harassment free workspace. Legal tools are available to help those who are the victims of harassment hold their abusers accountable.

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