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Sexual harassment in the workplace now happening remotely

Countless professionals have become comfortable navigating Zoom meetings. But as workers settled into the new reality of working remotely in 2020-2021, new issues and transgressions emerge. Those who acted professionally in an office’s relatively formal environment were perhaps less clear about these boundaries when working from home.

These are not embarrassing accidents where a child in the background says something inappropriate for the workplace, or perhaps someone did not mute themselves when going to the bathroom. Instead, these new examples of inappropriate behavior are consciously offensive or unacceptable in any work environment, whether it’s harassment, bullying, or other behavior.

Old rules for new platforms

An estimated 31% of the U.S. employees worked from home during the summer of 2020. While some states or municipalities have decreased or increased social distancing restrictions depending on the numbers in hospitals and other key factors, many businesses continued to follow a work from home mandate until employees can gather in large groups again.

There were some awkward growing pains as workforce communications shifted to email and instant messaging. This was mostly due to language that had no context because there was no voice or facial expressions to provide additional context. Now videoconferencing has opened up a new can of worms requiring some to adjust and everyone can recognize unacceptable online behavior in the workplace.

Some companies proactively sent out reminders that Zoom or online environments should have the same ground rules as an employee party or offsite work event. Employees are working in a space they usually regard as private or off the clock, so they perhaps need a reminder about inappropriate online behavior. Common examples to address:

  • Inappropriate comments verbally, in emails, or using chat
  • Offensive or insensitive video memes
  • Behavior inappropriate for the workplace caught on camera
  • Not suitable for the workplace clothing caught on camera
  • Inappropriate comments about work from home clothing choices
  • Inappropriate images or messaging displayed in the background during a meeting

Companies or managers may try to build comradery through video happy hours. Still, they should be just as careful about these as they would with a holiday work party serving alcohol.

Accountability and responsibility

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for employees. They also may need to update how employees can report harassment or inappropriate behavior via a Zoom call. While the format may have changed to video or other new digital formats, many of the same principles apply.

When employees feel unsafe in their workplace, an attorney well-versed in sexual harassment laws can help you take the right course of action for your situation.

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