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Updating Your Harassment Prevention Policy To Address The Virtual Workplace

March 19, 2021

The unprecedented shift to a remote workforce due to COVID-19 is a good reason for updating your Harassment Prevention Policy to address the virtual workplace.

Harassment Prevention Overview

The State of California requires employers with five or more employees, including temporary, independent contractors, volunteers, and unpaid interns, to ensure their employees completed harassment prevention training by January 1, 2021, and every two years thereafter, as well as have a written Harassment Prevention Policy in place.

  • Supervisor training is for two-hours and must be provided within 6 months of hire or promotion.
  • Non-supervisory training is for one-hour and must be provided within 6 months of hire.
  • As of 1/1/20, migrant and seasonal workers must receive the same training as non-supervisory employees.
  • As of 1/1/21, seasonal, temporary, or other employees that are hired to work for less than six months, must be trained within 30 calendar days after the hire date OR within 100 hours worked (whichever occurs first). Training must be provided by the temporary services employer, not the employer’s client, for the temporary employees it employs.

Harassment Prevention And Remote Employees

Harassment prevention training must include examples of conduct that violate sexual harassment laws and regulations and techniques to correct harassing or discriminatory behavior. Remote work arrangements have opened a new set of potential types of harassment scenarios that should be considered and added to the written policy and training. Employees should be educated about potential types of harassment that may occur in a virtual environment and how to prevent them. Incidents that could occur during video conferencing and chat sessions are particularly important to consider. Review whether you are including training to recognize these types of harassment and the techniques to correct any inappropriate behaviors, which also may be different with remote employees.

In The Virtual Workplace Sexual Harassment May Include:

  • Media such as videos, images, or GIFs sent to a co-worker, client, vendor, or associate via email, chat messages, or text that are inappropriate.
  • Sexual innuendos or discriminatory statements made during videoconference meetings.
  • Making remarks about someone’s appearance when in a videoconference meeting.
  • Social media stalking of a co-worker.
  • Unsolicited communications through company email or messaging apps that are of a sexual or inappropriate nature.

Some Considerations To Include In Your Policy And Training Are:

  • Attire – employee attire when meeting virtually should align with your organization’s workplace attire policy.
  • Backdrop – the backdrop should not include any offensive or religious home decorations and should not allow for the viewing of family members in the background
  • Videoconference meeting format – expectations for the meeting format should be consistent and provided by the employer for all staff with guidelines for appropriate comments and media shared during the meeting.
  • Chat, email and text – document expectations and educate employees on what can and cannot be communicated in chat, email and text.  Chat should be a focus as it is typically less formal than email, which may open the door for inappropriate communications.

Review your harassment prevention policies and make sure that they are updated for the virtual workplace. This reduces the possibility of harassment claims.

Returning To Work Considerations For Harassment Prevention

If your organization has returned employees to work or is planning for this, sexual harassment prevention training should be incorporated into these plans. The workplace and culture will undoubtedly be changed, and there may be new issues to consider. For instance, employees will need to be aware of images on their facemasks that could be potentially offensive. They may also be sensitive to certain words and references that were not considered before COVID-19. Returning employees should receive a refresher training on sexual harassment prevention or include this training in a return-to-work orientation. Your complimentary ThinkHR subscription is a great resource for developing a return-to-work plan and includes:

  • New poster requirements
  • Return to work checklist
  • Sample policies
  • Guidance on employer requirements for new laws passed because of COVID-19
  • 2-hour Sexual Harassment Training for supervisors

Free California Harassment Prevention Training Resources

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) offers a free online training resource for harassment prevention. The training for employees is a one-hour online course that can be completed over one or more sessions and will ensure you are meeting the educational objectives and requirements for the State of California. Though not required, we also suggest you incorporate supplemental training on sexual harassment in the virtual workplace. The supervisory two-hour training requirement for supervisors is already available for our clients through their complimentary ThinkHR subscription. Our nonprofit clients can meet all harassment training requirements for California at no cost! The required poster and fact sheet are below. For more information or these documents in alternate languages visit DFEH Required Posters.

Sexual Harassment Training Fact Sheet (English)

CA Sexual Harassment Required Poster (English)

Employer FAQ


ThinkHR (Log-In Required): 2-minute HR: COVID-19: Harassment Prevention Considerations with a Remote Workforce

California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Sexual Harassment Training

Sexual Harassment in the Remote Workplace: How Training Can Respond

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