The Virtual Workplace: Understanding EEOC’s Harassment Guidance

Learn more about the new rules governing conduct within remote and hybrid work environments. 

Once thought immune to remote work, COVID compelled more and more companies to adopt remote and hybrid work schedules for their workers. Additionally, workers can now access email and work texts on and off the job. This shift has brought unique challenges for SMACNA contractors, including those related to workplace harassment. 

That makes understanding the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) recently issued guidance focusing on harassment in virtual workspaces essential.  Below is a summary of its guidance and recommendations:

The Virtual Workplace: New Challenges, New Guidance

With more companies adopting remote or hybrid work models, the lines between work and home have blurred. This new flexibility has brought benefits, such as reduced commute times and increased work-life balance. Still, it has also created new opportunities for misconduct. Online communication platforms, once used mainly for business meetings, have become virtual workplaces where harassment can occur in a variety of forms. 

The EEOC's updated guidance acknowledges this reality and clarifies how harassment can manifest in virtual settings. The advice is intended to help employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities in this new work environment.

Understanding Virtual Harassment

Harassment in virtual spaces can take many forms, from inappropriate comments during video calls to offensive messages in chat applications. The EEOC's guidance outlines several common examples, such as:

  • Verbal Harassment includes offensive jokes, slurs, or insults made during virtual meetings or through electronic communication.
  • Visual Harassment: Inappropriate or offensive images or videos shared during virtual meetings or through messaging apps.
  • Cyberstalking or Online Bullying: Persistent unwanted communication, threats, or derogatory remarks made via email, chat, or social media.

Employer Responsibilities in the Virtual Workplace

The EEOC emphasizes that employers are responsible for preventing and addressing harassment in virtual work environments. This includes establishing clear policies, providing training, and creating mechanisms for reporting and addressing complaints. Employers should also ensure that employees feel safe and supported when working remotely.

The guidance recommends that employers:

  • Develop Clear Anti-Harassment Policies: These policies should cover both in-person and virtual workplaces and clearly define what constitutes harassment.
  • Conduct Regular Training: Employers should provide training on harassment prevention, focusing on virtual work environments. This training should be interactive and encourage open discussion.
  • Create Accessible Reporting Mechanisms: Employees should have clear and accessible ways to report harassment, regardless of their work location.
  • Ensure Confidentiality and No Retaliation: Employers should protect the confidentiality of those who report harassment and ensure that they are not retaliated against.


SMACNA's Rapid Response Protocol sample policies can assist contractors in adopting clear anti-harassment policies and provide guidance on reporting and addressing internal complaints of harassment. The policies are currently under review for compliance with the new guidance and will be updated soon if needed. Additionally, SMACNA offers both virtual and in-person respectful workplace training that addresses harassment.

Contact Jen Squirewell,, if you are interested in the training.