The protests and social unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd have had a rippling eﬀect that has reached into numerous areas of everyday life, including the vastly changed workplaces of 2020. This moment is unlike anything we have ever seen in terms of resetting expectations around equity and fair treatment, and the demands for real change have extended into companies large and small.
But as many employees continue to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, discrimination and other misconduct continues to occur while those employees work remotely. Forward-thinking employers must be intentional about setting a strategy for keeping their ﬁnger on the pulse of the employee experience generally, and allegations of misconduct speciﬁcally, while employees work remotely.
Employers who do not do this are placing themselves at risk of the numerous consequences that can result from misconduct going unaddressed—high employee turnover, low employee morale, costly lawsuits, and even the public airing of allegations of misconduct.
Misconduct and discrimination while employees work remotely is a real issue, and can have disastrous eﬀects on an organization when not properly addressed. Here are 5 insights and actionable steps for how HR leaders can remain engaged as to the employee experience while employees work remotely, with an emphasis on warning signs to look for related to misconduct.
1. Recognize the ways misconduct can appear while employees work remotely.
It is rare that misconduct shows up in such a blatant and unmistakable way as it did recently for Jeﬀ Toobin, former CNN Chief Legal Analyst. (It’s bad. Look it up.) The ways in which misconduct can appear while employees work remotely can be subtle and diﬃcult to recognize.
Employees of color have complained that their supervisors disparately enforce requirements around whose cameras must be on during team video calls. In other words, some employees have complained that their supervisors require team members that are people of color to have their cameras on during meetings, while white employees are not required to do so.
Another way in which misconduct is appearing while employees work remotely is via excessive performance monitoring. Many employers are now using tracking systems to monitor how many hours employees are working while working from home. When certain employees feel like their hours and schedules are being monitored more than others, it can lead to allegations of bias and discrimination.
Additionally, many employees feel loosened up by the informal atmosphere that occurs when working from home. This can lead employees to making inappropriate comments or “jokes” that are oﬀensive and hurtful to other employees.
How is misconduct – or the appearance of it – showing up in your remote workplace?
2. Define what is and isn’t misconduct within your speciﬁc organization.
What is and isn’t considered discrimination while employees work remotely?
What is and isn’t considered sexual harassment while employees work remotely?
After clearly deﬁning and categorizing misconduct, employers must educate their employees on the rules of the road while working from home. This education of employees should also include an explanation of what discipline can look like if any of these policies are violated. Policies against misconduct, without clearly articulated consequences for violating said policies, are toothless and ineﬀective.
3. Create a consistent and easy-to-use mechanism for employees to report misconduct while working remotely.
Working at home today often means is no HR “door” to go knock on, because employees are not in a physical oﬃce. There is a wide universe of reporting mechanisms for employees to use while working remotely, including phone apps that an employee can use to report misconduct and designated company email addresses for employees to make complaints about misconduct.
Employers must commit to hanging a lamp on these issues—you can’t ﬁx what you don’t know is broken. Ensure your employees know how to report issues.
4. Create a consistent investigative process for looking into allegations of misconduct while employees work remotely.
As an employer, it’s imperative you create a concrete system for evaluating and interrogating employees; claims as they are received, and engage in appropriate corrective action when allegations are found to be substantiated. This is where an employer’s words—its stated commitment to equity and inclusion within the workplace—must match the work that is being done.
Words can’t ﬁx what actions have broken. Employers must be thoughtful about how they are engaging in the work of disciplining those who have run afoul of policies against misconduct while employees work remotely.
5. Document and analyze allegations received to create an accountability plan.
A key step that any employer can take now is to make a list of what the last several months have looked like in terms of complaints about misconduct while employees work remotely.
Starting with that week in March in which everyone was sent home:
- How many complaints have been made by employees while working from home?
- What issues are trending within that list—discrimination?
- Bullying via email and phone calls?
Once armed with these statistics, employers can start the work of creating a comprehensive accountability plan for addressing misconduct while employees work remotely.
Identifying remote misconduct, ensuring employees know how to find the remote “open door” to report it and having a concrete plan to follow up are all critical as we navigate the new world of work and protect our businesses and our employees.
I welcome your feedback! Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kia Roberts, J.D., is the Founder and Principal of Triangle Investigations. Triangle Investigations is a group of lawyers and expert investigators conducting misconduct investigations within workplaces, schools, and other organizations.