A Look At Virtual Sexual Harassment

By Douglas Lipsky

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a pervasive problem even though remote work is now a permanent feature of many businesses in New York. The use of videoconferencing and other online technologies increases the potential for sexual harassment in the virtual workplace. Let’s take a look at sexual harassment in virtual work environments and what you can do about it. 

Understanding Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is considered an unlawful form of discrimination even if occurs in the virtual workplace. There are two types of sexual harassment – quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment:

  • Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor or other authority figure makes unwanted sexual advances or demands as a condition of employment
  • A hostile environment arises when offensive comments, conduct, or displays of a sexual nature make it impossible for an employee to perform their duties

Sexual harassment is not only offensive but it is also illegal. The best way to fight back is to work with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer.

Harassment And Remote Work

With telecommuting and remote work common at many businesses, complaints of sexual harassment in the virtual workplace are on the rise. But sexual harassment has long occurred online via email, text messaging, or chat apps. With these types of electronic communications and videoconferencing frequently used by remote workers, virtual sexual harassment is more likely to occur. 

The virtual workplace can easily become hostile if employees take part in sexual banter, make offensive comments or gestures, or exchange lewd photos. Virtual sexual harassment can also occur when supervisors or coworkers send unwanted, offensive materials, images, or videos. 

Preventing Virtual Workplace Harassment

Whether it occurs in person or in cyberspace, employers must provide employees with a work environment free from harassment. This starts with having a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, clearly defined reporting procedures, and disciplinary measures up to and including termination. 

In addition, every employer in New York State is required to provide all employees with sexual harassment prevention training annually, regardless of whether they are working onsite or remotely. The harassment prevention training should include policies related to the virtual work environment. 

In short, employees must understand proper etiquette for videoconferencing, chat apps, emailing, and other electronic communications. Finally, employers must take corrective action against sexual harassment in the virtual workplace. An employer that knows or should have known about virtual sexual harassment may be liable. 

Why This Matters

All employees have a right to a work environment free from harassment and this includes virtual workplaces. If you have been harassed on a videoconference or another online medium, you have a right to take legal action to recover damages. Contact an experienced employment lawyer to get started.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.