For decades, federal and state laws have prohibited harassment in the workplace, whether the harassment is sexual harassment or harassment based on an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or other protected status. Generally, the harassing conduct must be frequent or severe, and must be based on a particular characteristic of the employee.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, employers became more attuned to identifying harassing conduct and enacting policies designed to prevent such harassment. In turn, employees and victims of harassment were empowered to speak up and hold their harassers—and their employers—accountable. This progress, however limited it may be, is in jeopardy with increased working from home. Indeed, a recent survey among working-from-home workers revealed that 25% of respondents reported more gender-based harassment, 10% reported more race- or ethnicity-based harassment, and 23% reported more age-based harassment.
The Causes of Virtual Harassment
While working from home (WFH) may mitigate certain kinds of harassment, such as physical or sexual intimidation and assault, it enables certain other types of harassment to occur more frequently. One of the main reasons harassment may have increased in the WFH-era is because employees may act more informally in their own homes than they would after commuting into a workplace, as they are less attuned to the applicability of workplace behavior standards. Employees may also have more opportunities to interact with co-workers, such as in internal company chats or Zoom meetings. Moreover, victims of harassment may be able to better document harassment when it occurs (and may have a digital record of it) than when they are in the immediate physical presence of co-workers. The isolation of working from home may also enable harassers to engage in their conduct more freely, as a one-on-one telephone conversation with a co-worker in the privacy of the harasser’s own house is less likely to be overheard than if the same conversation occurred from inside a cubicle.
The Consequences of Virtual Harassment
The harassment of WFH workers may also cause more severe distress to victims. When harassment occurs in the workplace, the employee at least has an escape and reprieve when they return to their home. However, when the harassment occurs at home, it often seems more personal to the victim who no longer has an escape, especially if it occurs after-hours. The harassment, in turn, can have a profound effect on the victim’s family who may experience the harassment alongside the victim. Virtual harassment may also occur in front of dozens of co-workers, which further humiliates the victim and intensifies the resulting harm.
Protecting Yourself from Harassment
While virtual harassment may be more frequent and may cause more severe distress than in-person harassment, you may also have better evidence that it occurred. Traditional, in-person harassment claims too often come down to credibility assessments—the classic “he-said, she-said” scenario. When harassment occurs virtually, however, there may be a digital recording of such harassment that can be powerful evidence to support your claim. For this reason, employees working remotely should familiarize themselves with company policies on the recording of virtual meetings and other communications to assure evidence of harassment is appropriately recorded and preserved. With strong, indisputable evidence at your disposal, our experienced harassment attorneys will be better equipped to put an end to the harassment and hold your employer accountable.