COVID-19 and a remote workforce: Is digital discrimination a threat?

COVID-19 and a remote workforce: Is digital discrimination a threat?
17/03/2020 Neta Meidav

The COVID-19 pandemic has jolted many workplaces into the new reality of a remote-first workforce. As many office workers shift from face-to-face interaction to a predominantly online existence the potential for workplace bullying and discrimination is shifting in parallel.

Workers are already heavily reliant on messaging apps such as Slack and Whatsapp and more still engage with each other on social media. This super-connectedness has blurred the boundaries between working hours and personal time resulting in a majority of people that continue to interact with colleagues when on holiday, off sick, or ‘out of hours’. Sometimes this interaction takes a negative turn.

The rising challenge of digital discrimination

Some 30% of UK respondents to a survey by Totaljobs in 2018 said they had been victims of workplace discrimination on internal messaging platforms. In the US, a 2019 survey by revealed that 39% of respondents had received aggressive messages from colleagues on similar tools.

Research also shows that a large number of people (30% in UK, 34% in US) who do experience cyberbullying, sexual harassment, or racism suffer in silence because they are not confident they will be supported by their employer. According to Totaljobs, around 8% even leave their jobs as a result.

Recent high-profile cases such as the CEO of leading consumer brand Away stepping down after an exposé of bullying culture over Slack highlights the impact of this particular type of workplace toxicity. Coupled with reports of a marked increase in COVID-19 related racial discrimination in the workplace, authorities across the US and UK have been issuing guidance on how organizations should be tackling the issue.

Protecting your workforce

Just as with any other form of communication, employees should be encouraged to speak up and flag hostile behavior as not acceptable in the workplace. Employees that witness discrimination even if they didn’t experience it themselves, should also be encouraged to record details of the incident, including date, time and location.

Below we share how your organization can go about tackling the growing issue of discrimination and bullying across internal communication channels:

  1. Remind your employees of your organization’s discrimination and harassment policies and ensure that these are adapted for a remote-first culture (i.e. how they apply to discrimination across messaging apps). Vault Platform hosts links to policy and training materials directly within the app.
  2. Encourage a speak up culture: stigmatizing issues (such as with race-related discrimination due to COVID-19) can be challenging for employees to report. Without effective reporting tools in place, many will suffer in silence. Vault Platform was designed to provide a safe space for employees to voice concerns either anonymously, in-name or with our GoTogether feature (through the power of strength in numbers). We are currently developing a specific channel for employees to report their own issues related to Coronavirus or if they have concerns about others within the organization.
  3. Reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment: Typically, employers will only avoid liability in the event of a discrimination case if they can show they have taken “all reasonable steps” to protect employees. The mere implementation of Vault Platform helps enterprises meet this requirement by offering employees an effective and secure solution for reporting sensitive issues that take place in person or digitally.

Download our digital discrimination infosheet to learn more