How to Deal With Sexual Harassment When Working From Home

Updated on: by Erica Martin

Sexual Harassment in the virtual workplace

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Everyone knows that sexual harassment can be a problem in brick and mortar businesses.  All states have laws about sexual harassment, and most businesses have policies in place for how to deal with it.  However, sexual harassment can also be a problem when you work from home.  This post will explain the different types of sexual harassment, and what you should do if you feel you’ve been a victim.

What is sexual harassment?

The EEOC defines sexual  harassment as

“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” 

There are a few different parts of this definition that are important –

First, the behavior must be unwelcomed – if a coworker starts harassing you via IM or email, and you ask them to stop, most courts would probably see that as unwelcome behavior.

Second, the conduct must be severe, pervasive, or both.  Pervasive means that the behavior continues despite the fact that you’ve asked the co-worker or supervisor to stop on several occasions – if the behavior occurs once, you ask the person to stop, and they do, that’s not considered harassment.  Severe means that the behavior is extremely offensive – an example of extremely offensive behavior might be a very sexually explicit email or text message, or a nude photo of someone sent via email.

Third, a reasonable person must consider the conduct to be harassment.  This is where the definition of sexual harassment gets a little tricky – just because you might consider a text message or email to be sexual harassment, doesn’t mean a reasonable person would.  The reasonable person standard is an objective viewpoint that’s used to determine whether conduct can be considered sexual harassment.


Is there more than one type of sexual harassment?

There are two different types of sexual harassment.  The first type is called quid pro quo sexual harassment.  Quid pro quo means “This for that” – in other words, “If you send me a dirty picture of yourself, I’ll raise your pay $2 an hour.”

The other type of sexual harassment is called hostile environment sexual harassment – this type of harassment may not threaten your job, but it creates a hostile environment that you don’t feel comfortable working in.  Hostile work environment sexual harassment can include personal questions of a sexual nature, vulgarities and other offensive language, physical conduct that is sexual or degrading to any reasonable person, and any sexually explicit or offensive pictures or literature that is in plain sight of other employees.


What can I do if I feel I’m being sexually harassed

Even though we work from home, that doesn’t mean that sexual harassment can’t happen.  Many companies use some kind of IM and/or email program to communicate with their workers, so it’s always possible that someone could send a sexually explicit email or IM.  If this happens, forward the email to a supervisor immediately so they can see what was sent to you, or take a screenshot of your IM window.   Once your supervisor has some proof that you’ve been sexually harassed several times, they can go through the appropriate channels to deal with the situation.  Also, find out what  your company’s sexual harassment policy is so you know how to deal with the situation when it comes up.

It’s important to deal with sexual harassment when it happens, because not dealing with it can affect your work performance and even cause people to consider not coming to work or even quit their jobs.  Everyone deserves to work in an environment that’s free from sexual harassment, so be sure to deal with it when it comes up.

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February 13, 2014 at 10:59 am

Great post Erica!