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Remote Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, most businesses have had to adapt to working remotely. But while there have certainly been some benefits to this, there have also arisen some new problems. One such problem has become sexual harassment in a digital world. 

Though it may seem counterintuitive for sexual harassment to persist in a remote working environment, offenders have found new ways to carry out this behavior. In fact, online sexual harassment is on the rise and will likely only continue increasing as many businesses have made the decision for their employees to permanently work remotely. 

A Hostile Work Environment is Severe and Pervasive

In general, the law considers a work environment as hostile when workplace behavior that is sexual, whether implicit or explicit, is also severe or pervasive. 

Behavior is considered severe when the harassing conduct is extreme. For instance, if one worker makes physical conduct with a co-worker that is sexual in nature, it is severe.  

Behavior is considered pervasive when there have been several incidents of harassing conduct over time. For instance, if a co-worker continues to comment on another co-worker’s body over the course of four months it would most likely be considered pervasive.

Acts of Online Sexual Harassment

While not quite the same, online sexual harassment in a remote workplace can still look similar. So how is this behavior transpiring in a digital world? New acts of sexual harassment include:

  • Sending sexually suggestive or explicit emails/text messages (this can include everything from certain comments or emojis, jokes, or GIFs)
  • Statements or questions that are sexual in nature during video chat (i.e. Zoom or Teams); this may include commenting on a co-worker’s appearance or how they sound 
  • Sharing sexual content during remote meetings – whether intentional or not
  • Inappropriate messages or posts through apps (it doesn’t need to be a work platform to constitute workplace sexual harassment)
  • Other behavior that is sexual in nature and creates a hostile work environment 

Since these behaviors are continuing, it’s especially important that both employers and employees can recognize these unacceptable actions when and how they occur as well as how to respond to them. 

What Can You Do?

Tell the harasser to stop.

Explicitly express to the offender (verbally or in writing) that the conduct makes you uncomfortable and must stop. 

Stand up and speak up for others.

Step in and speak up when you notice that fellow co-workers are being subject to harassment. It’s important to point out the bad behavior when it happens and to tell the harasser to stop. It’s also a good idea to check up on the harassed co-worker afterwards to ensure that they are okay and don’t need additional assistance.

Report misconduct to those in charge.

It’s imperative that you report any conduct that could create a hostile work environment. Tell a manager or your HR department. It’s also a good idea to maintain evidence of the harassment, such as taking a screenshot of the inappropriate conversation. 

When employers and employees work together, it can help to stop different forms of workplace sexual harassment and to create a safer work environment for everyone. 

The Deerfield Employment Law Attorneys at ST Legal Group Can Help

When you have been wrongfully treated in the workplace, you may not know how to assert your rights. That’s where the attorneys at ST Legal Group can help. We understand what’s at stake and are here to ensure that your rights are upheld. To learn more, or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!