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Protecting Employees From Virtual Harassment

by David Pinto

Verkada, a security business, was in the news for all the wrong reasons in 2020. Some of its employees were accused of harassing their co-workers using the company's own technology: Several male workers used the company's face recognition cameras to take photographs of female colleagues, then made sexually explicit comments about them on the # RawVerkadawgz secret Slack channel. Instead of dismissing the offenders, the business decreased its stock holdings, a decision that enraged both former and current employees. At least one employee resigned due to the “toxic culture” at the company. Filip Kaliszan, the company's co-founder and CEO, eventually fired the three workers that started the incident.

Verkada is only one example of workplace cyberbullying. There have been several examples of online harassment in a variety of sectors, and not all incidents are recorded. Other workers, however, aren't the only ones that prey on vulnerable populations in the workplace. Workers can be mistreated in their personal life by anonymous persons, with devastating consequences for their morale and productivity at work.

Virtual Harassment is becoming increasingly serious.

Online harassment, defined as the use of a virtual space to harass, intimidate, deliberately humiliate, or threaten another person, is a major issue in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four out of every ten adults in the United States has been harassed online.

While online harassment by strangers is typically less harmful than bullying or harassment by co-workers, it can nevertheless have a significant negative impact on employees' attitudes about their employment and employers. Online harassment may have a number of negative organizational consequences, including increased distraction, internal conflict, and a loss of group trust, to name a few.

Despite the fact that offenders are frequently anonymous and far away from their victims, internet harassment may be particularly harmful to individuals owing to its magnitude and often public nature. Minor disagreements between public-facing staff can drag on for months, garnering larger audiences and creating endless diversions. Harassment that begins online can lead to actual threats in the real world, such as sexual harassment and stalking.

Harassment is a workplace issue

Studies show that up to 21% of individuals in the workplace are subjected to online harassment, and unfortunately, many companies are unaware of the scope of the problem.

Online workplace harassment has unfortunately become a normal aspect of many employees' everyday life, thanks in part to the rise of remote employment following the COVID-19 epidemic. Remote employment may aggravate online harassment by mixing professional and personal life and combining workplaces with homes. Anecdotal data from the financial services industry shows that WFH workers are using more harsh and aggressive language connected to online harassment and bullying.

The most vulnerable members of a company's staff are disproportionately affected by online abuse. Employees who are younger, female, identify as LGBTQ, or come from a racial or ethnic minority background are more likely to face online abuse.

There has recently been an increase in complaints from female employees, for example. More than 4 in 10 participants were subjected to online harassment by their co-workers, according to research by the UK charity Rights of Women, which questioned hundreds of women in late 2020. 7 in 10 participants said their employers aren't doing enough to safeguard them.

Whether employees are targeted online by strangers or co-workers, the consequences of this usually unreported crime can, and frequently do, spill over into their professional life.

leadership needs to prioritize anti-harassment efforts

Whether employees are targeted online by strangers or co-workers, the consequences of this usually unreported crime can, and frequently do, spill over into their professional life.

In 2017, researchers from the charity Pen America looked into the experiences of authors and journalists who had been subjected to online abuse. More than six out of ten survey participants said it had an influence on their personal lives as well as their physical, psychological, and emotional wellbeing. Furthermore, more than three out of ten respondents indicated that online harassment had a negative impact on their work lives.

While emotional stress induced by online harassment has been linked to lower motivation and work satisfaction (particularly among female employees), there are also legal ramifications for companies. Even if the assault was carried out off the job and on personal equipment, courts are increasingly expecting employers to act when they learn of work-related harassment overflowing into the internet domain.

Companies may take proactive steps to avoid internet abuse.

Companies can take proactive steps to avoid internet abuse.

Employers must emphasize online harassment prevention as an operational objective as remote and hybrid working circumstances become more common.

Every company should have a clear anti-harassment policy in place that addresses both real and online harassment. What constitutes online harassment, what workers are required to do if they or someone they work with is harassed (including who to report the matter to internally), and the penalties for harassing a colleague should all be outlined in the policy. When victims of harassment are harassed online, they often don't know what to do or who to turn to. They will feel safer and more in charge if they have a clear policy in place.

Anti-harassment rules should be shared with new employees at onboarding, including in employee handbooks, and posted on internal communication channels like Slack.

When an incidence of online harassment is brought to a manager's notice, it's critical that they refer to the company's anti-harassment policy and take appropriate action, whether that includes issuing a formal warning, speaking with the offender, or terminating their job. In some cases, the complainant may need further assistance.

Despite the fact that the great majority of employees are now online (both personally and professionally), few are aware of how to safeguard their digital privacy. Both employees and employers can benefit from digital security and anti-harassment training.

Too many people disclose their personal information online without considering the repercussions, whether they overshare on social media or overuse passwords. Not only may this irresponsibility lead to online harassment, such as doxing and cyberstalking, but it can also expose corporations to cyber assaults via social engineering operations.

Regularly teaching employees how to be secure online, such as how to use two-factor authentication and how to stay private on social media, may go a long way toward safeguarding a workforce from all sorts of online dangers.

Harassment training in the workplace is just as essential. Harassment training, whether in the form of short films, training exercises, or live presentations, can assist in raising employee awareness of improper behaviour, enhance communication, and promote a respectful and productive corporate culture.

However, in order for training to be effective, it must be timely and relevant. It's also critical that top executives set up time for harassment training. Their workers, on the other hand, are reluctant to take harassment and online abuse seriously. Managers and rank-and-file employees need to be informed of different things when it comes to sexual harassment training (i.e., employees need to understand what is considered professional behaviour and what to do if they are sexually harassed, whereas managers need to know how to handle complaints and end disrespectful conduct).

Finally, companies should think about cybersecurity services that are proactive. Employee personal information is widely available online, making it simple for unscrupulous individuals to threaten them. Finding someone's email address, phone number, and other personal facts, such as their marital status and interests, is all too easy, with more than 230 data brokers offering information on 99 percent of all adult Americans. This sensitive information, in the wrong hands, may inflict enormous harm to workers and the organizations they work for.

As part of digital security training, we propose that companies encourage all employees to do self-audits on search engines. Even if people are serious about deleting their information from the internet, data brokers relist people's profiles on a regular basis, even after being asked to do so.

We were already noticing an uptick in the level of internet harassment prior to the epidemic. However, with the development of remote working likely to exacerbate online abuse, it's important that companies take precautions to protect their employees from both co-workers and strangers. A smart place to start is to implement anti-harassment rules, provide digital security and anti-harassment staff training, and provide access to preventive cyber services.


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