Sexual Harassment in the Remote (Online) Workplace

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Working from home has benefited many employees by allowing for:

  • Better work-life balance
  • Fewer distractions
  • Increased company loyalty
  • Increased productivity
  • Fewer office distractions
  • More autonomy (with decorating your space and attire)
  • No commute

Many people believed remote work would also eliminate or decrease workplace sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment didn’t end; it evolved.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Remote Workplace?

Sexual harassment is considered any unwelcome sexual behavior or acts committed by one person that creates a hostile or uncomfortable work environment for another individual (employee). While physical sexual harassment (like groping or unwanted touching) may not be possible, people can sexually harass one another in a remote work environment over text, email, video conferencing apps, and messenger apps.

Examples of Remote Workplace Sexual Harassment

In the remote workplace, online sexual harassment can include sending unwanted:

  • Sexts or video chats
  • Sexual jokes sent via Slack (or other messaging apps)
  • Sexual images or videos via message
  • Sexually explicit or suggestive emails
  • Inappropriate website links
  • Sexual or nude photos or videos

Remote workplace sexual harassment can also include:

  • Screenshotting images of a coworker on Zoom to share with friends, post online, or using the image to create inappropriate posters or cartoons
  • Making crude or explicit jokes in Zoom or Team meetings or via messenger
  • Sharing inappropriate sexual stories or anecdotes (even if they are meant to be funny)
  • Starting unwanted, online conversations of a sexual nature
  • Sexually intimidating a fellow employee by demanding sexual images, videos, etc. in exchange for job security or a promotion
  • Making derogatory comments about someone’s body or gender in meetings or chats
  • Sharing inappropriate sexual innuendoes (which can include making subtle hints or suggestions indirectly)

Combatting Online Sexual Harassment as an Employee

If you are suffering from unwanted online sexual harassment, you should take the following steps to protect yourself.

  • Tell the harasser to stop. Making it clear that their behavior or actions are unwelcome is important. Whether you send them a direct message or email or have a meeting with a manager present, you should direct them to stop.
  • Document the instances of harassment. Collecting evidence of the harassment is important as screenshots, witness statements, or other forms of documentation can help substantiate your claim.
  • Report instances of harassment. Reporting the sexual harassment to a manager or the human resources department can help put an end to your harassment. Review your employee handbook or training resources for your company’s specific reporting protocols.
  • Contact Harris Grombchevsky LLP. If your employer does not handle the claim correctly or you want legal counsel before making a report, our sexual harassment attorneys can advise you of your legal rights and options as well as guide you through filing a claim with the appropriate state or federal agency. We can also help you gather evidence and strengthen your claim.

If you notice another employee being harassed, you can also take action by speaking up for others. Call out inappropriate behaviors when you notice them. If you are uncomfortable confronting the accuser publicly, you can also report them to a manager or HR yourself.

Steps Your Employer Should Take to Combat Online Sexual Harassments

Employers can also take steps to discourage online sexual harassment and protect you from unwanted advances. To ensure everyone feels safe in their remote work environment, employers should:

  • Update their training programs. While employers require their staff to complete sexual harassment training, companies can review their training to ensure they include information about online harassment.
  • Update company policies. As companies adapt to having employees work from home, they may consider including policies prohibiting sharing suggestive or explicit content using company devices or communication channels.
  • Enforce company standards. Whether they institute a dress code or online meeting conduct requirements (such as standard Zoom backgrounds, etc.), employers can encourage employees to maintain a professional standard that reduces the risk of inappropriate attire, meeting backgrounds, or behavior.
  • Act (when needed). When employers receive a sexual harassment complaint, they must investigate and take immediate action to protect the complainant (i.e. suspending the accused harasser, suspending the accused’s company communication accounts, etc.).

At Harris Grombchevsky LLP, we are committed to helping our clients put an end to their harassment and protect other employees from the same hostile, unwanted behaviors. To schedule a free case consultation, reach out to us online or at (888) 427-8064.

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