The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought countless changes to everyday life. From social distancing to wearing cloth face coverings, people across the globe are taking steps to stop the spread of the virus while retaining some semblance of life, and the workplace is no exception. Remote work has become the new normal for millions of employees in this country and abroad. While working from home comes with some conveniences, workers should know that discrimination still exists in the virtual workplace.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is considered any gender-based or sexual-based discrimination that occurs in the workplace. It consists of unwelcome verbal or physical advances, comments, or requests for sexual favors. Sexual harassment takes many different forms; some being more overt and obvious, while others are more subtle but equally as problematic. Common examples of sexual harassment include:
- Physical sexual contact, including grabbing, touching, blocking someone’s movement, or brushing against another person.
- Visual contact, such as leering, staring at an employee’s body or displaying sexually suggestive photos, drawings, or posters in areas where others can see.
- Verbal, written, or electronic messages of a sexual nature, including propositions and obscene comments or jokes.
Hostile Work Environment
While a sexual joke may be unwanted and unpleasant, a single sexual comment does not necessarily constitute workplace harassment. However, if advances of a sexual nature become persistent and keep one or more employees from doing their job, that is considered a hostile work environment. The workplace becomes too hostile to perform a job safely and successfully when discrimination goes unchecked, despite being reported to management.
Quid Pro Quo
In some cases, sexual harassment goes a step further. One employee makes promises to another they will benefit in some way if they perform some type of sexual favor. This is called quid pro quo, which translates to this for that. For example, an owner of a local restaurant can tell one of his servers he will give her the best shifts and a pay raise if she agrees to go on a date with him. She is not benefitting from her job performance, but instead on the promise that she will engage in romantic relationship with her boss. That is quid pro quo and it is illegal.
Online Sexual Harassment
The after work happy hour was once the hotbed of inappropriate mingling between colleagues. Now, online video meetings and calls have given co-workers a unique glimpse into each other’s homes and private lives. That access has opened the door for a new form of sexual harassment. As noted above, sexual harassment does not always involve physical contact. From one-on-one calls to private online messages, sexual harassment can exist in the world of remote working. Outside of the confines of a crowded workspace where everyone can hear office conversations, harassers may feel more brazen to send suggestive messages or inappropriate online propositions to co-workers. That unwanted interaction makes the workday just as unpleasant and uncomfortable as if it were happening at the office.
How can I Fight Online Sexual Harassment?
Fortunately, for individuals dealing with virtual harassment, everything that happens online leaves a data trail. In some ways, that makes it easier to prove a claim of sexual harassment, stop the behavior, and hold the perpetrator accountable. Anyone experiencing severe and/or persistent, unwanted comments or suggestions of a sexual nature should:
- Document the behavior, such as saving texts, emails, or online chats
- Forward any evidence to Human Resources (HR) and formally document the offensive behavior according to company reporting procedures
- Contact an employment lawyer
South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC Represent Workers Facing Virtual Harassment
Only one in five women report workplace sexual harassment, while others endure it out of fear of getting demoted or fired. Workers who report job discrimination are protected under the law. The South Jersey employment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC understand the challenges employees face when working from home. If you believe you are experiencing virtual harassment, contact us online or call us at 856-235-7075 for a free consultation. Located in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, our team proudly represents clients throughout South Jersey, including Camden County, Burlington County, and Cherry Hill.