Sexual harassment has long been a problem in the American workplace, but the exact understanding of what that kind of harassment can entail has evolved over time.
Now, with so many people working remotely, the methods of harassment and the understanding that distance isn’t necessarily a barrier to the problem have evolved again.
What is virtual sexual harassment?
There’s something about being behind a keyboard and a computer screen that emboldens some people to act in ways that they wouldn’t in person. That can lead to behavior like:
- Posting sexual comments, memes or jokes that make fun of someone’s gender or gender expression on a company “chat” thread that’s designed for informal communication between team members (even if the “jokes” aren’t directly aimed at a specific person)
- Text messages or emails from one co-worker to another (or a boss to an employee) asking for dates, asking intrusive sexual questions or “sexting”
- One person exposing their private parts to another while they’re on a work video chat
- Sending sexually explicit videos or emails to a coworker or subordinate employee, with the expectation that it will be treated like a joke
There can even be situations where a boss uses text messages or video communication to try to extort sexual favors out of an employee, with the threat that their career could be negatively affected if they don’t comply.
Just because sexual harassment doesn’t happen inside the four walls of a business doesn’t mean it isn’t illegal. If you’ve been harassed via a virtual workspace, find out what steps to take next.