As the definition of the American workplace evolves, so must our understanding of sexual harassment. In the age of telecommuting, sexual harassment may look a little different, but the same basic principles apply. It can happen to anyone, even where employees are not meeting face to face. Whether employees are communicating over chat, video conference, email, or phone, employers have the same obligation to ensure a culture of respect and professionalism in the workplace.
There are two main types of sexual harassment, either of which can be perpetrated online: quid pro quo, and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves a demand of sexual activities in exchange for a positive employment decision. This can mean that a supervisor conditions a raise, promotion, approval of vacation time, or even the continuation of employment on the receipt of a sexual favor. A hostile work environment results where an employee is subjected to severe harassment on a regular basis. In rare cases, one instance of very severe harassment, such as unwanted physical touching, is enough to qualify as a hostile work environment.
If you are an employee, and you feel you are experiencing either type of harassment while working from home, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. First, you should screenshot or document any harassing comments that you receive. If the comments or demands are made over video or phone, be sure to create a written record of what was said, and who witnessed it. Reach out to a supervisor or your HR department to report harassment. If you feel your employer has failed to address the harassment or isn’t taking it seriously, you can contact an employment lawyer to intervene on your behalf.
If you are an employer and have telecommuters on your payroll, it is essential that you have a policy in place to discipline any type of sexual harassment, even if it occurs only online. Your policy should state that offenders may be terminated for any such violations. You should ensure that you have a system in place where employees can report harassment, with multiple points of contact. Regular check-ins with employees who are not physically present and proper training are also good ways to ensure your employees are being treated with respect.
For more information about sexual harassment when working from home, contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation with an employment lawyer.
Rafael E. Lázaro is a founding member of Lázaro Law Group, LLC. With a particular emphasis on sexual harassment, Mr. Lázaro has dedicated his career to improving the workplace.