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Workplace sexual harassment amid our remote working world

On Behalf of | Oct 12, 2021 | Sexual Harassment |

COVID fatigue, as many are calling it, is prevalent in Florida and across the country. A wide range of precautions, worries and uncertainty seemingly never ends – and it’s tiring. Everyone is ready to eradicate this pandemic that has flipped lives upside down in so many ways, including how we work.

Since the outbreak of COVID, many employers – large and small – have allowed employees to work remotely away from the office environment. As a result, with Zoom and other video conferencing platforms, VPN and remote accessible business systems, employees can continue to be productive despite their location.

But without face-to-face interaction some may be wondering if workplace issues, like sexual harassment or discrimination have become obsolete.

Unfortunately, no.

Study shows increase in harassment

According to a survey conducted by Rights of Women, an online advocacy group that aims to bridge the gender gap, sexual harassment for women has actually increased since the pandemic began.

Roughly 23% of women surveyed who say they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace indicate that such behavior has increased or escalated since they started working from home in March of 2020.

Reported harassment included explicit statements or pornographic pictures displayed in online chat messaging and suggestive sexual references in emails or video conferencing.

Real-life examples

In several instances, women spoke about their limited ability to report or do anything about the sexual harassment that was occurring. One woman noted, “The fact it’s on Zoom in front of others in a jokey manner makes it difficult to address.”

Another employee indicated that due to pressures her employer faced in the need to address business systems and other issues relating to the pandemic, investigations into sexual harassment were not considered a priority. As such, she was forced to continue to work with her harasser.

No excuses

It’s understandable that employers have struggled and are still struggling to adjust to repercussions of the pandemic – whether it’s getting employees equipped with the tools needed to do their job at home or installing security protocols. However, such reasons are no excuse for employers to ignore complaints from employees about sexual harassment or to not undertake measures to remedy harassment in the workplace.

If an employee is experiencing sexual harassment by another employee – even if it’s not in person – they should notify their employer immediately. If the employer fails to investigate and take prompt remedial action, or retaliates against the employee who complained, then the employee may have no choice but to consult with an employment lawyer.

And if a business has not developed a proper policy so as to investigate and remedy sexual harassment, or needs assistance with regard to the investigation or in determining what remedial action should be taken, the business should consider working with a qualified and experienced employment attorney.