Over the last few months, telework and working from home offices have dramatically increased. But removing employees from traditional workplaces has not prevented traditional employment law violations from joining a virtual meeting or being part of email received at home offices. Employers must now address workplace harassment involving remote work environments.
Remote work harassment
Sexual harassment is anything that creates a work environment that is intimidating, hostile or offensive. The conduct must be considered offensive and unwelcome by the employee subject to the conduct. Claiming that the behavior was just a joke is not a valid defense, especially if it was severe or pervasive and created a hostile work environment.
Harassment is abuse of power and does not require physical contact. It can occur through an email or in a video conference as well as take place in an office conference room. Inappropriate comments can persist even when a worker ended work for the day through various apps.
Examples of harassment include an email from a manager, supervisor, or senior colleague with sexually suggestive messages, images, or video. Or it may involve a manager joking during a virtual meeting about seeing the inside of an employee’s bedroom.
The generally relaxed telework environment has raised more concerns that there are more opportunities for harassment. Some believe that sexual harassment may now occur more frequency with more work take place at home
According to a 2018 survey, 38 percent of women underwent workplace harassment. Poor employer responses also worsened this problem. Approximately 58 percent of harassment victims claimed disbelief of their harassment claims was a major problem.
Victims also fear reprisal for reporting harassment. When this occurs, they should make a second complaint concerning any retaliation.
Third-party apps were created that can support employees. Workers may use them to report harassment and other misconduct such as discrimination, fraud, and safety violations.
It is anticipated that working from home will not end with the pandemic and employers will allow flexible work schedules involving telework and coming into an office. This will undoubtedly pose new methods and complications involving sexual harassment. An attorney can help present options in these cases and represent parties in legal proceedings.