Sexual harassment, unfortunately, does not disappear with a pandemic. Rather, the ways in which sexual harassment can occur have simply shifted online. With the majority of workers now working remotely, incidents of workplace sexual harassment are still prevalent.
According to a survey from TalentLMS, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending sexual harassment in the workplace, more than one in four survey respondents said they have experienced unwelcome sexual behavior since the start of COVID-19. The respondents said the incidents of sexual harassment occurred via Zoom, Google Hangouts, text message, email, an internal chat programs.
The same number of respondents also said they witnessed an incident of sexual harassment at work but failed to take any formal action to address or report it.
Examples of Virtual Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in remote work settings can occur during meetings and conferences or through phone calls, text, and email. Examples of virtual sexual harassment you can experience while working remotely include:
- Receiving inappropriate messages via email, Slack, text from coworkers or supervisors
- Receiving inappropriate images or offensive jokes sent by coworkers or supervisors from an electronic device
- Inappropriate comments or references made by coworkers or supervisors during a virtual team meeting or call
- Receiving inappropriate website links, nude photographs, or sexual videos from coworkers or supervisors
What Can I Do If I’m Being Harassed?
If you are being sexually harassed online, you need to file a complaint with your employer just like you would if the harassment occurred in-person. Consult your employee handbook to find out the proper protocol for starting a claim. Make sure you notify your employer’s HR department about the harassment in writing.
You should also include copies of supporting evidence with the claim. Make sure you document how your employer responds and take note of any actions, or lack of concern that results from your formal complaint. If your employer fails to correct the harassing behavior, then you will need to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
How Should I Document Instances of Remote Sexual Harassment?
If you experience sexual harassment during a team meeting via Zoom, then you would have witnesses who can support your claim against your employer. Video apps like Zoom also have recording and screenshot capabilities that you can use to compile evidence of sexual harassment you experience online.
If you have received inappropriate messages via instant message and you cannot download and save the message, then take a screenshot while you still have access to the message. You are going to need strong evidence to support your claim and to prove that you were subjected to sexual harassment while you were working online. Make copies of all the evidence and put it in a secure location for safekeeping in case things get misplaced or lost.
Policies That Discourage Harassment in Work-From-Home Environments
Employers that want to increase positive, respectful behavior in the remote work environment should do the following:
- Encourage employees to wear work-appropriate clothing when working remotely.
- Set clear guidelines and policies stating that the same anti-harassment policies and guidelines for professional behavior in-person also apply if you are working from home.
- Remind employees that policies prohibiting working under the influence of and/or using drugs or alcohol at work are still in effect.
- Set regular check-ins with individual employees to ask about how the remote work experience is going with their other team members.
- Schedule frequent group virtual meetings with each team to reinforce that there is still oversight and accountability in the remote work environment.
Employers should also carefully review the anti-harassment policies they have in place to ensure they cover harassment through digital channels and also make clear that misconduct in a remote environment will face the same serious consequences as if the behavior occurred in-person.
Our Sexual Harassment Team Will Vigorously Defend Your Rights
Badame Law Group is here to use our extensive resources and practical legal insight to assist in your pursuit for justice. If you have experienced sexual harassment at work, please get in touch with our law firm so that we can help you take legal action.
To speak to one of our employment law attorneys about your case, please call (949) 393-4249 or contact us online to request a consultation.