Sexual harassment issues in online meetings

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Posted by Legal Team On May 27, 2020

Have you been working from home lately? If so, like many other companies in this nation, your employer may be rapidly making adjustments to the way that they do business, particularly when it comes to holding conferences and meetings. They may also have quickly set up an online forum that helps you and your co-workers communicate better outside of formal meetings.

That means it’s definitely time to discuss a company’s responsibilities regarding the issue of online sexual harassment.

There’s no doubt that “keyboard warriors” who are safely tucked behind their screens often feel emboldened to behave in ways that they know aren’t acceptable in person — but do you really have to worry about that happening in a virtual office meeting with your co-workers?

You do. Something about being online tends to make people simply forget normal social boundaries. Maybe that’s why 40% of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2017 admitted that they’d already experienced online harassment. Here are some of the potential problems you may encounter with virtual harassment:

  • Unwelcome images, messages or other content in your private messages. Whether it’s through a direct message or in your inbox, sexually charged images and comments aren’t appropriate, even when they’re “just jokes.”
  • Comments about your sexuality or sexual activity on the company forum to other members. For example, jokes about your sexual orientation, memes that imply you’re “sleeping around” and so on may seem funny to some people — but they’re really a form of harassment.
  • The use of gender-based or sexual slurs. These could be used to describe you to others in messages or when arguing with you in a video meeting.

While your employer can’t always stop incidents like these from occurring, they can take steps to discourage it and take swift action after an incident. In general, employers should make it clear that company forums and video meetings need to be handled with the same professional grace that employees would be expected to use in person. Employers also need to be reactive when an incident does occur and treat it seriously — just as they would with an incident if it happened in-person.

If your employer dropped the ball and hasn’t stopped you from experiencing sexual harassment or gender discrimination online while working, find out more about your legal options.