No one could have predicted how 2020 would turn out, with the majority of office-based workers being issued with laptops in March 2020 and instructed to work from home for the foreseeable. With the announcement of the first regulatory approved vaccine to start being used, there is hope that normality can return in some form in 2021.
However, it is important to realise how working from home can affect employees physically and mentally. As lines blurred this last year between work life and home life, we have started to see what impact working from home may have physically and mentally, such as a lack of structure, psychological stresses and no outlet valves.
Working from home increases the risk of cyberbullying. Employees may feel isolated and under stress, which can lead to individuals potentially behaving differently to how they would in a normal working environment.
Cyberbullying can include a number of different things, including:
- Direct or indirect offensive comments or posts on social media;
- Micro-managing employees/extensive monitoring of employees working from home;
- Excluding employees from emails, virtual meetings, chats;
- Offensive emails – language can be difficult to gauge in an email or message as opposed to a face to face conversation;
- Email threats;
- Emails sent outside normal working hours;
- Excessive emails.
This list is not exhaustive but intended to give a flavour of the types of behaviour that can be seen as bullying or harassment. In addition, it is important to mention that this is not limited to working hours or the use of work technology.
As with traditional bullying and harassment, there is no standalone claim for bullying. However, this sort of conduct could lead to a range of claims in the Employment Tribunal from unlawful discrimination to constructive unfair dismissal.
Remember also that an employer is vicariously liable for the acts of their employees when done in the course of employment.
It is therefore very important to establish the risks of bullying and harassment in the virtual workplace and what businesses can do to protect and support employees.