While countries worldwide are contending with the COVID-19 pandemic, employees who now work from home face another less obvious yet still incredibly harmful challenge—cyberbullying and digital harassment. Most companies have transitioned to working remotely over the past several months. It would seem reasonable to assume that the frequency of workplace abuse would be reduced with this change in environment. However, not only have cyberbullying and digital harassment not decreased, but they have also gotten considerably worse.
Workplace Culture Has Suffered as Employees Transition to Working From Home
Recent statistics on workplace abuse support this assertion. In a study conducted to determine how the workplace has changed in response to the pandemic, participants from over 125 companies completed two sets of surveys, one before March 15 and one after. A comparison of these responses demonstrated that the number of employees who consider their workplace culture to be “healthy” regarding the prevention of workplace harassment has dropped by 10% during this time. In addition, the number of employees confident that their workplace features well-understood behavioral norms that inform employee interactions fell by 9%.
Various Forms of Online Workplace Abuse and Their Effects
Online workplace abuse can occur in several forms of combative or threatening behavior. This includes personal threats, insults, social exclusion, intimidation tactics, sexual harassment, cyberstalking, spreading harmful rumors, sharing inappropriate jokes, photos, or memes, and other types of abuse perpetrated in emails, phone calls, and video chats. This abuse significantly impacts the victim’s self-esteem, leaving them feeling isolated and powerless and resulting in job performance issues, such as inability to concentrate and reduced productivity. It also heightens the risk of several health issues, including anxiety, panic attacks, and high blood pressure.
Online Workplace Abuse Is More Damaging Than In-Person Abuse
Many people mistakenly believe that the physical distance involved in cyberbullying and digital harassment occurring online means it has less psychological impact than such actions occurring in person. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Employees believe that workplace behavior’s standard policies do not extend to the online realm, making them feel less accountable for abusive behavior. Working from home has led to a decrease of formality and civility in workplace interactions, new challenges in monitoring this contact, and a lack of information informing supervisors on how to handle this behavior.
While in-person workplace abuse is incredibly detrimental, it does offer an escape at the end of the workday when you leave the office. However, if you are subject to online workplace abuse, the pervasive influence of the internet allows cyberbullying and digital harassment to intrude into your home life. It serves as a constant stressor that prevents you from truly coping with the trauma or relaxing during your time off.
Along with being virtually unavoidable, online workplace abuse typically occurs on a public platform. When others witness this abuse, this humiliates victims in front of their peers and supervisors and substantially intensifies the harm inflicted on victims. This type of abuse also leaves behind a pervasive digital trail that is difficult to erase, meaning it can be repetitively revisited and can serve as a long-enduring threat to the victims’ personal and professional lives.
Zoom Policies Against Abuse
One of the most commonly used tools by Americans working from home is Zoom, a video-conferencing application. While encouraging free, open communication, Zoom recognizes the potential for abuse and has developed specific community standards as a way to ensure a safe, respectful exchange of ideas for its users. According to the content moderation principles posted on their website, they define abusive behavior as any targeted attempt to intimidate, harass, or silence others.
To prevent users from experiencing abuse and provide accountability for those who violate their standards, Zoom stipulates the following policies:
- Hateful Conduct Policy – Hateful conduct includes directly attacking, threatening, or promoting violence against others based on age, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and disability or serious illness. Any abusive speech or visual content whose purpose is to cause or incite harm based on these protected categories is considered hateful conduct. Violation of this policy results in permanent suspension from the platform.
- Violent Threats Policy – Violent threats are interpreted as any statements in which a user declares their intent to commit acts of violence against others, including sexual assault, that may result in injury, disease, serious bodily harm, or death. Offering a financial reward for inflicting violence on an individual person or a group of people is also considered a violent threat. Repeated violations of this policy will lead to the user being blocked from ever using Zoom again.
- Sensitive Content Policy – Sensitive content is defined as content depicting or endorsing hateful imagery, graphic violence, gratuitous gore, pornographic content, and anything involving the exploitation of children. Violation of this policy will result in permanent suspension from the platform. If the sensitive content concerns the exploitation of children, Zoom will report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and may contact law enforcement.
When a user is permanently blocked from Zoom, they are entitled to submit an appeal if they believe this order is based on inaccurate information.
Reporting Online Workplace Abuse on Zoom
Due to its prevalent use, Zoom has unfortunately become one of the most commonly employed platforms for individuals to perpetrate online workplace abuse against their co-workers. While Zoom aims to maintain community standards through the policies described above, actual interactions between employers provide a more realistic perspective. Unfortunately, workplace abuse occurs every day through this platform and affects countless employees’ lives during their work hours and beyond.
Reporting Abuse: Make Sure the Report Feature Is Enabled
The “Report” feature is automatically enabled for Zoom users, but it helps verify this, so you are prepared in case you experience online abuse. Follow the steps below:
- Sign on to the Zoom web portal.
- Select “Settings” in the navigation menu.
- Under the “In Meeting (Advanced)” section, check to see that the “Report participants to Zoom” setting has been enabled.
- If this setting has been disabled, select the toggle to re-enable it.
- When a verification dialog shows up, select “Turn On” to submit this change.
- If this option is grayed out, that means this setting has been locked at the group level or account level. To change this setting, you will need to contact your workplace Zoom administrator for permission.
Reporting Abuse: During a Meeting or Webinar You Hosted
If you were the victim of workplace cyberbullying or digital harassment during a Zoom meeting or webinar you hosted, you could take the following steps to report this abuse:
- Sign on the Zoom web portal.
- Select either “Meetings” or “Webinars” in the navigation menu.
- Click on the “Previous” or “Previous Webinars” tab.
- Hover your cursor over the specific meeting or webinar and choose “Report to Zoom.”
- If the meeting or seminar included more than one session, click on “Report this Session.”
- Within the drop-down menu, choose the participants you want to report and click “Report.”
- Place a check next to your reason for reporting. You can also enter additional information to clarify the report.
- To add screenshots or other photographic evidence of the abuse, click “Choose File” and upload the relevant files.
- Click “Submit.”
After reporting online workplace abuse to Zoom, you should contact your company’s Human Resources department to file a report with them, as well.
Tips for Avoiding Workplace Abuse on Zoom
While the ultimate responsibility for preventing abuse lies with the individuals perpetrating this abuse, there are certain tips you can follow to promote a safe work environment on Zoom.
- Secure your Zoom meetings by requiring a password to join.
- After the meeting commences, lock it to prevent others from joining.
- Continuously monitor who is in your meeting and how they are interacting with others.
- Disable screen sharing or allow only the host to share their screen. When screen sharing is necessary, limit it to only one application if possible.
- Turn off the annotations feature so participants cannot alter your content.
- Disable file transfers and use a separate platform for file sharing.
- Silence disruptive users by putting them on hold, muting them, turning off their video feed, or removing them completely from the meeting.
- Disable private messaging among participants, so they are unable to contact one another outside of the group meeting.
Contact CA Employment Counsel Today
If you are experiencing online workplace abuse, contact California Employment Counsel, APC, for top-quality legal representation in Orange County and throughout the state of California. Our team of expert attorneys will work with you to thoroughly investigate your situation and develop innovative strategies customized to your needs. We are compassionate, empathetic, and dedicated to pursuing the justice and compensation you deserve. With our help, you can find the peace of mind to recover from this trauma and move on with your life.
For a free consultation, call us today at (714) 942-2178 or fill out the form on our website.