Back to top Back to top
  • close


The Remote Work Revolution: Navigating Workplace Harassment in Virtual Settings

June 4, 2024

When I started my career as a lawyer 20 years ago, the idea of working from home part of the week would have never even crossed my mind. Even if it had, it would have seemed like a far-fetched dream – right up there with robot butlers and AI assistants that could predict our every need. Today, virtual work is a reality, and while I’m still waiting on AI to fetch my morning coffee, I feel like that dream too is just around the corner. 

Love it or hate it, remote work is here to stay.

The rise of remote work, driven by technological advancements, the demand for work-life balance and more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic, has transformed the modern workplace. The hybrid work model is becoming mainstream and is providing flexibility and new types of opportunities for employers and employees.

And come on, who doesn’t love perks?

Organizations recognize the potential for:

  • cost savings
  • increased productivity
  • access to a global talent pool

Employees appreciate:

  • the flexibility of being able to choose their work setting
  • reduced commute time and having more control over their work environment and routines
  • collaborating with a more diverse range of colleagues and professionals, enriching the work experience

It’s a win win, right?

Hold your virtual horses!

I certainly don’t want to rain on the virtual workplace parade, but acknowledging the flip side of virtual work is crucial because perks inevitably come with challenges.

Isolation, communication barriers, and the potential for virtual workplace harassment require proactive attention from leaders and HR professionals to avoid pitfalls and maintain a healthy, productive remote environment.

What Constitutes Harassment?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) mandates a harassment-free workplace.  Workplace harassment is defined in the OHSA as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome” and includes workplace sexual harassment. The comments or conduct typically happen more than once, but not always.  More recently, the Ontario government introduced Bill 190, the Working for Workers Five Act, 2024 (Bill 190), which proposes expanding the OHSA’s definitions of “workplace harassment” and “sexual harassment” to include harassment that takes place in a workplace “virtually through the use of information and communication technology”. 

Bill 190 simply reinforces the realities of the modern workplace and employer responsibilities in the virtual work environment.

Harassment in Remote Settings

Remote workplace harassment and workplace sexual harassment can include unwelcome behavior conducted through digital channels such as emails, instant messages, video calls, social media, and can be verbal, written, or visual.

Examples include:

  • sending offensive or suggestive messages via chat or email
  • making derogatory comments or jokes during video conferences
  • repeatedly contacting someone through various online social media platforms against their will
  • spreading harmful rumours online or sending content that is offensive or damaging to an employee’s reputation

Best Practices for Preventing and Addressing Harassment in a Virtual Work Environment

To create a safe virtual workplace, organizations should:

  • implement comprehensive remote work policies defining acceptable behaviour and reporting procedures
  • clearly communicate policies and expectations and maintain transparency through regular updates
  • provide regular training on recognizing and preventing harassment, with a focus on digital etiquette
  • foster a positive work culture with respectful communication
  • promptly address complaints and take corrective measures
  • regularly review and update policies to stay ahead of potential issues

Best Practices for Conducting Virtual Workplace Investigations

Conducting virtual workplace investigations requires adapting traditional methods of investigating to the digital environment without compromising on thoroughness and confidentiality.

By leveraging technology and following best practices, employers can effectively address harassment complaints in remote settings.

Some best practices are:

  • keeping the camera on! Non-verbal communication is critical in workplace investigations because it provides additional context and insight beyond what is verbally expressed, helping investigators better understand the situation and assess credibility
  • gathering digital evidence, such as chat logs and emails
  • conducting virtual interviews
  • maintaining confidentiality during virtual investigations: use secure communication channels and limit access to sensitive information to protect privacy
  • using screen sharing and other interactive tools during meetings to enhance engagement
  • only inviting those individuals that need to participate in a virtual meeting (i.e., union representative or other support person).
  • advising interviewees to join the meeting from a private, quiet room and encouraging the use of a headset to ensure privacy


As remote work continues to evolve, organizations must remain committed to creating a safe, respectful, and legally compliant virtual work environment.

This ongoing commitment involves staying informed about legal updates, fostering open communication, and continuously improving policies and training programs. By doing so, employers can mitigate risks, enhance employee well-being, and navigate the future of work with confidence.

The trend towards remote and hybrid work models is expected to grow. Organizations that proactively address potential legal issues and prioritize a safe workplace will be better positioned to thrive in this new landscape. Whether an organization’s workplace is virtual, in person, or hybrid, ensuring a harassment-free environment is not just a legal obligation but the cornerstone of a healthy and productive workforce.

And in the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the perks and tackle the challenges of remote work, all while eagerly awaiting the day AI finally delivers my morning coffee.