Woman working remote

Discrimination in the Remote Work Age

By Thomas McKinney

While remote work may have been around prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing measures pushed forward toward a new era. The Remote Work Age is upon us and an unprecedented number of workers continue in partly or fully remote work positions, some on a temporary basis and some on a permanent basis. Online meeting platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Ring Central, are now an integral part of facilitating company workflow and meetings on a regular basis. While these virtual meeting rooms allow you to consult with co-workers from your home, the laws regarding workplace discrimination and harassment apply as if you were all meeting in-person, in a meeting room, conference room, or office, at your brick and mortar place of employment.

Meeting online, while it feels different from meeting in person on a number of levels, does not exempt anyone from behaving in a way that runs afoul from legal protections against workplace discrimination and harassment. Workers victimized by such behavior will be able to seek compensation and other remedies regardless of whether the offending conduct occurred while engaging in work in a virtual setting or a face-to-face setting.

Discrimination in the Remote Work Age

You may have seen some hilarious remote work situations in the news over recent years. The embarrassing moments may make for great and entertaining internet fodder, but some of this conduct as well as other types of conduct occurring on Zoom is clearly inappropriate and downright offensive, especially some of the examples pertaining to work meetings. While some more egregious examples of inappropriate Zoom behaviors have been the result of embarrassing oversights and technological blunders, other times the behaviors have been intentional. You see, many employees have forgotten themselves in the remote work space and have used the unmonitored virtual workspace for inappropriate behaviors such as the harassment of co-workers.

In the virtual setting, remote workers often lack the accountability that comes with in-person bystanders in the workplace. Actions taken in an online meeting, such as disrobing in a work meeting, would not be likely to take place in an in-person workplace scenario. Thus, not only can a hostile work environment be created in the virtual space, but the remote work area may also even, in some ways, make the removed workplace even more susceptible to becoming a hostile work environment. Furthermore, the hostile work environment may be even more severe and damaging in the virtual space as victims are experiencing it from their own homes. What is normally a safe space, a safe haven to come home to after a tough day at work becomes the hostile work environment. With the behavior essentially occurring in the victim’s own home, it can feel particularly inescapable.

Just as with an in-person work setting, sexual harassment and workplace discrimination can happen online. The unwelcome inappropriate jokes and comments made over Zoom can rise to the level of sexual harassment. Discrimination in the remote workspace can occur as well. In fact, many have been the victims of age discrimination in this context. For example, seemingly innocuous teasing of an older employee who may be struggling with navigating online platforms can all too easily slip across the line into the realm of age discrimination.

Employment Law Attorneys

If you are a remote worker, you still have the right to be free from discrimination and harassment in the workplace, even when that workplace looks a bit different than the traditional office setting. The trusted team of employment law attorneys at Castronovo & McKinney is here for you. Contact us today.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is an experienced NJ Employment Lawyer in all major areas of labor and employment law, including discrimination, harassment, overtime violations, wage and hour claims, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, LAD, FLSA, and all other employment law claims. Tom is admitted to practice in the States of New Jersey and New York, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York, District of New Jersey, and United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prior to forming the firm, Tom practiced at Gibbons P.C. in Newark, NJ. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Tom here today.