An ex-Googler said her complaints of harassment were dismissed because it happened out of the office.
Lockdown has blurred the boundaries between the workplace and the home.
Industry experts told Insider businesses must re-examine their policies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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A female engineer's complaint that Google failed to address her allegations of harassment while working remotely highlights the new challenges posed by boundaries blurring between home and work.
Remote work has become the norm for many white-collar workers since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last spring.
For all the benefits this may bring, one unforeseen corollary of lockdown has been rising harassment and violence against women, something the United Nations describes as a "shadow pandemic."
One former engineer who worked at Google's Japanese headquarters in Japan told Insider that she had complained multiples times of alleged sexual harassment by a male colleague through 2020. The response from the company, she recalled, was to brush off her complaints because the incidents had taken place away from the office, and were therefore a "private matter" – despite company orders to work from home.
Google said it took all allegations of harassment seriously and that its policies prohibit harassment in the workplace. It declined to comment on the specifics of this case.
The woman's testimony highlights a broader issue for employers – ensuring that harassment policies are sufficiently clear in light of COVID-19, and employees stay professional even outside a physical office.
Laura Trendall Morrison, founder of consultancy firm Gamechanger, told Insider the switch to remote work had made "the nature of sexual harassment more insidious."
"With the blurring of the boundary between work and home, it's become more likely that situations may arise where unwanted contact and harassment happens to the victim in their home, via a computer screen or phone – leaving them without any place to feel psychologically safe or have respite from abuse," she said.
She added: "This can have long term and traumatic impacts psychologically, and I would recommend any allegations of sexual harassment be supported by occupational health services, and victims helped to regain control and restore a sense of safety."
According to a recent report by Open Democracy, stay-at-home orders have "given sexual predators new tools with which to threaten, intimidate, and abuse women."
"While remote working may reduce the numbers of reported cases of physical sexual harassment, sadly, we have seen a rise in reports of sexual harassment in the form of comments or suggestions," said Hannah Strawbridge, founder of HanLaw, an HR and employment law firm.
"We have heard from women who have been asked to dress in a certain way for a Zoom call, for example, or comments made about clothes or physical appearance."
She added: "It seems as though working from home allows some employees to be over-friendly, perhaps feeling relaxed in their own environment, which in itself can cause issues."
Jeanette Wheeler, partner and head of employment at London law firm Birketts LLP, told Insider that "prevention is always better than a cure" when tackling workplace culture issues.
"Employers need to have a policy on harassment in the workplace and on social media and encourage victims to use the grievance procedure to raise concerns or complaints," she said. "When these are received take them seriously, investigate promptly and take any necessary disciplinary action and other appropriate steps to prevent a recurrence.
"Most importantly, foster and encourage a culture of respect and inclusivity from the top."
Read the full story: Google ordered employees to work from home. When a woman complained of sexual harassment, it said her allegations didn't happen at the office.Read the original article on Business Insider
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