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SEXUAL HARASSMENT OVER ZOOM? Three tips if you're being sexually harassed at work -- online or in the office 

SEXUAL HARASSMENT OVER ZOOM? Three tips if you're being sexually harassed at work -- online or in the office 

When COVID-19 hit America in March 2020, many office workers found themselves working from couches and laptops, zooming into meetings from their own home. The abrupt closure of many offices and workplaces made millions of staff shift the way they talk, work and interact with each other.

Bryan S. Arce, Esq., a Managing Partner at Phillips & Associates, PLLC, a law office that handles sexual harassment in the work place, has seen a new rise in trends from cases that come from working from home.

Sexual harassment still occurs because harassers either become complacent, or the opposite, emboldened, knowing that they do not have to face anyone in person.  Also, people feel more comfortable in their own home environment and can become “too comfortable” when dealing with co-workers.  Sexual comments or jokes are made with the false sense of security of having a screen separating people.  Harassers may send sexual jokes or videos through text message thinking that they are less harmful or derogatory because it is sent through a phone. Sometimes, family members accidentally walk in on a zoom meeting, opening the door for people to inappropriately comment, such as “Tony, your wife is hot” or “I’d want to still be home if my wife looked like that” or “Amy, I didn’t know you were married, you just ruined my fantasy.”

People forget that text messages can be saved as screenshots, phone calls, Zoom chats can be recorded, and emails cannot be unsent.

On the flip side, many businesses have returned to in-office work. Now, people who haven’t seen each other in a long time can feel an open window to make inappropriate comments about looks, weight loss, “quarantine did your body good” etc. It’s like people forgot how to act in an office environment and still act as if they are in the comfort of their own homes. People tend to pick back up on the harassment that stopped when the country shut down. But now, back in person, harassers can more easily touch co-workers, stare/leer at co-workers, and say sexual, but audible, comments under their breath.

If you are being sexually harassed at work, there are a number of things that you could do to protect yourself, before filing a lawsuit:

 

1. Address the Harasser and Tell Them To Stop

Stating the behavior you want to stop is important because it lets them know it isn’t welcome. It can also be an important step if you want to take legal action down the line. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it face-to-face, you can address them in writing, making sure to keep a copy for yourself. 

2. Address Your Supervisors 

If the harasser doesn’t take your requests to stop seriously, you could address it within the company.  Check the employee handbook for a sexual harassment policy. If there isn’t one, ask someone higher up how to make a sexual harassment complaint. Be sure to write down the steps you take, including who you spoke to and the date.

 

3. Document Everything

Make sure that you document or save any evidence of the harassment including cards, jokes, texts or emails. If other employees heard or saw interactions, note that in your documents. Along with your documentation, make sure you have copies of your performance evaluations and other important personnel documents. 

While your employer cannot retaliate against you for making a complaint of sexual harassment, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t retaliate against you (demotion, write-up, termination, etc.)  You may want to consult an attorney before you make a formal written complaint to the company if you are concerned about retaliation.

Litigating a sexual harassment case successfully is a process of many steps and necessarily involves many critical decisions. Rely on the skilled New Jersey sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates to provide you with the sage advice and effective advocacy you deserve at every step in the process. Contact them online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.


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