Sexual Harassment and Work from Home
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in remote jobs, many New Yorkers are finding themselves working from home. While this environment differs from a traditional workplace, remote employees still face many of the same challenges that onsite employees have to grapple with.
This includes sexual harassment, or unwelcome sexual conduct such as inappropriate jokes, unwanted sexual advances, and other inappropriate behaviors. Repeated sexual harassment can create a hostile place to work and influence bias in hiring decisions. If you experience sexual harassment while working from home, you are not alone, and you have options to take action.
New York Sexual Harassment Laws
Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act defines sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination. While this law does not protect employees from all inappropriate jokes or comments, it does provide protection against harassment that creates a hostile working environment or quid pro quo situations.
Sexual harassment creates a hostile environment when it happens so often or is so severe that an employee does not feel comfortable at work or forces him or her to leave. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employee’s employment, job activities, or even promotion potential is conditional based on his or her agreement to sexual favors.
On the state level, the New York State Human Rights Law states that all people should have the opportunity to obtain employment without discrimination, including gender discrimination. Employees who experience sexual harassment have the right to file a complaint against the person responsible. If the harassment is a crime under the New York Penal Code, the responsible party may face criminal charges.
Does Sexual Harassment Happen if Everyone is Working Remotely?
When we think of sexual harassment, we often imagine in-person interactions: inappropriate touching, passing comments and jokes at the water cooler, harassment during lunch hour. However, sexual harassment refers to any type of unwelcome sexual conduct, whether it happens in person or virtually.
Contrary to what we traditionally believe, sexual harassment can involve all forms of unwelcome sexual conduct, including written, verbal, and physical actions. Many forms of sexual harassment can occur among a remote workforce, including the following:
- Sending virtual requests for sexual favors
- Inappropriate sexual jokes or off-color comments in the company chat
- Exposing genitals to coworkers during a video conference
- Sending sexual content to coworkers
- Making unwelcome sexual advances via social media
What to Do About Sexual Harassment When You Work from Home
If you experienced sexual harassment remotely, you have legal remedies available to you. You can file a complaint whether the harassment happened online or in person. You can also file whether it took place over a company email or messaging platform, on your social media accounts, or after work hours ended.
Virtual sexual harassment often leaves a trail of evidence you can use to file your complaint. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, document what is happening. Take screenshots, download any emails you receive, or record inappropriate video conferences. Save all of this evidence in a safe location and make multiple copies.
Start a journal where you can write down each instance of harassment, how the harassment made you feel, and when it occurred. After you have gathered your evidence, provide your documentation to your company’s human resources department or supervisor to file a complaint. Remember, retaliation for reporting discrimination is illegal and it is your employer’s responsibility to ensure you work in a safe environment.
If your company does not investigate your complaint or retaliates against you for filing, retain your evidence and speak to a sexual harassment attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can help you file a formal complaint with a state or federal body or escalate your case to a lawsuit if necessary.