Oakland Virtual Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawyer
Sexual Harassment Attorneys in Oakland
Many employees have transitioned to working remotely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a decline in face-to-face contact, employers and workers may mistakenly believe workplace sexual harassment is no longer an issue. However, sexual harassment is not just limited to the office or physical workplace. It can happen in virtual settings too.
More than 25 percent of workers have claimed they experienced unwanted sexual conduct via email, Zoom, and other online platforms. Since the pandemic began, according to a 2021 survey on sexual harassment in the workplace. Harassment that occurs online is no less real or harmful for workers.
All employees have the right to a safe work environment free from sexual harassment. California law provides workers with essential protections from sexual harassment, which extends to the virtual workplace.
Employees who have experienced sexual harassment have the right to pursue compensation. The Oakland employment attorneys at Erlich Law Firm are here to help hold an employer accountable and end unlawful conduct.
What is Sexual Harassment?
- Hostile Work Environment: Sexual harassment commonly involves inappropriate behavior through sexual nature, offensive language, or sexual advances. A hostile work environment is created when the unwelcomed conduct is severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of employment or is considered abusive by any reasonable person.
- Quid-Pro-Quo Harassment: In some cases, the harassment may involve someone in a position of power pressuring a worker into giving sexual favors in exchange for employment opportunities or benefits, known as quid-pro-quo harassment. The pressure may either be direct or implied. Quid-pro-quo is a legal term that means, “This, in exchange for that.”
Both forms of sexual harassment are unlawful in the virtual workplace. A point to note is that isolated incidents may not rise to the level of harassment. A knowledgeable employment lawyer can help you determine whether the behavior you have experienced online qualifies as unlawful sexual harassment.
How Does Sexual Harassment Occur In The Virtual Workplace?
Many companies use online tools to communicate and collaborate with different teams for their day-to-day operations. Coworkers may chat over Slack, have meetings over Zoom, email each other, and use other messaging platforms.
The casual nature of virtual interactions has the potential to blur professional boundaries. Additionally, remote work often involves informal interactions and sometimes revealing home environments. Employees may feel that traditional workplace rules do not apply to online work settings.
Communicating through a computer screen can embolden people to make off-color remarks that would typically not be tolerated in a physical workplace. Deloitte found that more than half of women experienced harassment or non-inclusive behavior while working remotely during the pandemic.
Productivity tools adopted by employers can also make it easy to circulate inappropriate images and other obscene content. Additionally, more one-on-one interactions occur in isolation without coworkers to serve as potential witnesses if harassment occurs.
Types of Online Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in the virtual workplace can take many forms, from sending inappropriate messages to making sexual advances over a video call. Perhaps the most infamous example is the Zoom meeting from early in the pandemic in which a New Yorker staff writer exposed himself.
However, many instances of inappropriate online behavior tend to be more subtle. Here are just a few examples of common ways in which sexual harassment may occur in the online work environment:
- Sending messages with crude jokes
- Spreading sexual rumors or gossip via email
- Making inappropriate sexual remarks over chat
- Using emojis with sexual innuendo
- Sharing offensive memes or obscene images or videos
- Making sexual advances during a virtual meeting
- Using terms like “honey” or “babe” to address a colleague
- Commenting on a coworker’s appearance over a call
- Pressuring a coworker for sexual favors
- Inappropriate attire for a video meeting
Employers Have a Duty to Address and Prevent Sexual Harassment
California employers can be held liable for sexual harassment, whether it occurs in person or a remote workplace. The duty to maintain a harassment-free work environment must extend to virtual workspaces.
With employees working remotely, it is vital for employers not to fall victim to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality regarding sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the sudden shift to a remote work culture has meant that many companies have not adapted their policies to regulate interactions on virtual platforms.
Companies should implement sexual harassment prevention measures, such as monitoring online communications or having workers undergo sexual harassment prevention training. California employers with five or more workers must provide sexual harassment prevention training. The training should include clear examples of unacceptable virtual conduct and guide workers on handling harassment on online platforms.
Another essential way employers can tackle virtual misconduct is by establishing a distinct complaint process for employees to report sexual harassment. Additionally, workers should be encouraged to report wrongdoing. When someone complains about sexual harassment in the virtual workplace, the employer must promptly investigate what happened and take action to stop the harassment.
If your employer fails to take reasonable steps to address the inappropriate behavior, you have the right to legal action to recover damages for lost wages, emotional distress, and more. In California, it is illegal for an employer to fire or otherwise retaliate against an employee who complains about sexual harassment, even when it occurs in a virtual workplace.
What Can I Do To Stop The Sexual Harassment?
Experiencing sexual harassment is distressing, even when it occurs in a remote or virtual setting. When you encounter harassment online outside of work, such as over social media, you can often stop the unwanted behavior by blocking the harasser. However, that is not an option in the remote work environment if the harasser is a supervisor or coworker with whom you have to collaborate.
If you have suffered sexual harassment in the virtual workplace, one of the first steps you should take is to use your employer’s internal complaint procedure to report the misconduct. It would be best if you also documented the harassing behavior by taking screenshots of offensive messages and holding on to emails. The evidence will be necessary for proving your case if you decide to file a sexual harassment claim against your employer in the future.
If your employer ignores your complaints or fails to take steps to stop the harassment, you should discuss your situation with an experienced employment lawyer right away. You do not have to tolerate unlawful harassment.
You may be able to take legal action and file a sexual harassment claim against your employer. Erlich Law Firm is here to listen to what happened and advise you of your rights. We have experience handling all types of cases that involve sexual harassment in the workplace, whether physical or virtual. Our skilled Oakland employment lawyers can help you pursue compensation for the harm you suffered.
Call For A Free Case Evaluation
We understand how difficult it can be to speak out about workplace harassment. The Oakland sexual harassment lawyers at Erlich Law Firm are here to answer your questions and advise you of your legal options. We will evaluate your case and help you pursue the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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