Woman distressed on the phone looking at her computer

Understanding Visual Sexual Harassment

By Douglas Lipsky

Sexual harassment in the workplace comes in many forms. Because of the growing use of electronic communications – emails, text messaging, and video chats – in contemporary workplaces, visual sexual harassment is becoming increasingly common. Contact an experienced employment lawyer if you have experienced any form of harassment in your workplace. 

What is visual sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment may involve a supervisor making sexual demands in exchange for a job offer, raise, or promotion. This is known as quid pro quo harassment. Another form of harassment is known as a hostile work environment. This occurs when an employee is subjected to a pattern of unwelcome physical, verbal or visual conduct that interferes with their job performance.  

Visual sexual harassment falls under the banner of a hostile work environment and may involve sexually explicit images, such as:

  • Pornography downloaded onto a computer
  • Computer monitor screensavers
  • Email attachments
  • Text messages
  • Posters
  • Graphic calendars
  • Offensive gestures or displays

Regardless of the type of explicit imagery involved, visual sexual harassment is illegal. All employees in New York have strong legal protections from workplace harassment under federal, state, and city laws. In short, sexual harassment is considered an unlawful form of employment discrimination. 

Why You Need A Sexual Harassment Lawyer

Although visual sexual harassment is illegal, proving a claim is challenging. It takes an experienced employment lawyer to conduct a thorough investigation by:

  • Obtaining and reviewing employee files
  • Identifying and interviewing witnesses (including the alleged harasser)
  • Analyzing computer data and electronic communications (emails, chat room dialogues, text messages)

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and support your claim. Whether a coworker has been sending you offensive test messages, downloading sexually explicit images onto their computer or smartphone, or engaging in any other form of visual sexual harassment, tell that person to stop. 

In addition, report the offensive conduct according to your company’s harassment reporting policy. An employer who knew or should have known about harassment in the workplace and failed to stop it can be held liable. 

Though you may be reluctant to come forward, your employer cannot legally retaliate against you for complaining about harassment, meaning that they cannot take an adverse employment action, such as firing, demoting, reassigning, or disciplining you. A formal complaint will be important evidence that your attorney will use to prove your allegations.  

The Takeaway

Most people know that workplace harassment is illegal; however, identifying visual sexual harassment and taking legal action to stop it is another matter. By working with an experienced attorney, you can obtain just compensation, including lost wages (back pay/front pay), pain and suffering, and liquidated damages. If you have been subjected to visual sexual harassment, turn to Lipsky Lowe, LLP – we will be the strength in your corner.

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.