Over the past few months, many employers have transitioned to work-from-home arrangements. If yours is among these, you might have felt relieved at first, especially if you experienced sexual harassment at the office. Yet, many harassers will find ways to continue their behavior online. It is important to understand, then, what their actions may look like, as well as how to hold them accountable.
How sexual harassment can happen online
One benefit of working from home is that it eliminates the possibility of physical forms of sexual harassment. At the office, your supervisor or a colleague might have repeatedly touched you in an unwanted or inappropriate manner. At home, you will not have to contend with such behavior. Yet, if your supervisor or a colleague harassed you in other ways, they may become more brazen online. Without other colleagues to witness their behavior, they may feel that they are more likely to get away with it.
Some ways your supervisor or colleagues may engage in sexual harassment online include:
- Sending you explicit messages, photos, videos or gifs
- Making explicit jokes or comments to or about you on video calls, over email or in messages
- Making jokes or comments of a sexual nature on video calls, over email or in messages
- Exposing themselves to you on video calls
Keep in mind that quid pro quo sexual harassment can happen online as well. Your supervisor may proposition you – with incentive or conditions attached – on a video call, over email or in a message. Their behavior still qualifies as sexual harassment, even though it did not happen in the office.
Reporting online sexual harassment
It is often easier to document sexual harassment that happens online than sexual harassment that happens in-person. For one, you can take screenshots of any harassing messages or emails you receive. Furthermore, you can preserve evidence of harassment on video calls by recording them. Once you have gathered evidence of your harassment, you will want to review your employer’s sexual harassment policy to make sure you report it to the right person. Often, this will be your supervisor. But your supervisor may be your harasser, or they may have ignored previous reports of yours. In these cases – or if your employer’s policies dictate it – you will want to report the harassment to your employer’s human resources department instead.
If your employer dismisses your report, fails to investigate it or retaliates against you, you may want to file a complaint with the appropriate state or federal agency. Or, you may want to pursue civil litigation. By consulting an employment law attorney, you can understand your options for moving forward and protecting yourself.