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Yes, workplace sexual harassment can take place online

| Jun 1, 2021 | Harassment & discrimination

More people than ever are working from home or other locations. The “workplace” has become your home office, the kitchen table or maybe a vacation rental if you need a change of scenery. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the problem of workplace sexual harassment has disappeared for people who only need a computer and an internet connection to do their jobs. It’s just moved online.

The boundary lines have blurred

The line between what’s appropriate and inappropriate workplace behavior can blur when people are attending meetings via Zoom from their bedrooms, dressed only from the waist up. One employment solutions company president says that “workplace communications can easily begin to feel like an extension of social media…leading employees to make more risqué jokes or even discuss politics or other touchy subjects that would normally be off the menu in a real office environment.”

One advantage of conducting business online via Zoom or other videoconference format is that there are often witnesses to any inappropriate behavior. Offensive texts, emails and messages can be saved. However, that won’t necessarily stop people from engaging in sexual or other types of harassment.

Virtual workplace harassment can take place even when you’re in the office. Many people regularly communicate with colleagues in another office on the other side of the country or halfway around the world solely online.

You have a right to report online workplace harassment

You have a right to speak up if someone is doing something online that makes you feel uncomfortable – whether that’s having a photo or work of art behind them that is offensive or language that’s not appropriate for the workplace.

If you’re suffering sexual harassment or any other type of harassment on the job, regardless of where you or the harasser are, it’s important to report it to your manager and/or your human resources department. Even if they don’t have a specific policy that addresses virtual harassment, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. Under the law, you can’t be penalized for reporting harassment.

If you’re not getting any help from your employer, it may be wise to explore your other options. An experienced attorney can help protect your rights.