The COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of workers working from laptops and couches. The closures of offices and workplaces in March 2020 resulted in many workers changing how they interacted with each other and their adherence to professional behavior in online venues. If you were subject to virtual harassment, you should discuss your situation with our experienced New York City employment discrimination attorneys. Bryan S. Arce, Esq., a managing partner at our firm, spoke to Princeton Online about a new rise in sexual harassment lawsuits that arise while working from home.
Sexual Harassment While Working From Home
Workplace sexual harassment is forbidden under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. As Mr. Arce noted to Princeton Online, even though people are working from home and laws prohibit it, it still continues to occur. Harassers tend to be emboldened or complacent by these virtual arrangements; they may be too comfortable in how they deal with their coworkers because they are at home while interacting. Sometimes the fact that there is a screen between people can result in harassers making sexual jokes or comments by text or email that they might have understood prior to the pandemic were not tolerable within the workplace.
Virtual formats allow coworkers to see into each other’s homes. Family members may come into Zoom meetings, which can result in inappropriate comments, similar to the kinds of comments made to social guests. Comments are not always made out loud, and workers may not realize that Zoom chats may be recorded, as may phone calls. Screenshots and emails can also be saved. These may serve as evidence in this type of harassment lawsuit.
In 2021, many businesses returned to office work environments. Yet, the long time away may have caused some workers to forget what appropriate behavior in the office looks like; they may continue to act in too relaxed of a fashion as if they are interacting through phones and emails and in Zooms. However, because they are in the office, harassers again have access to touching coworkers leering at them, or making sexual remarks.
How can you Protect Yourself Before Filing a Lawsuit?
There are certain steps you should take before you file a lawsuit if you face harassment on the job. Importantly, you should tell the harasser you want the harassing conduct to stop. Only unwelcome conduct is prohibited and letting a coworker understand in no uncertain terms the conduct is unwelcome can make a difference to whether it continues. If you’re not comfortable handling issues face-to-face, you can provide a written request that the behavior stop and keep a copy of the request for yourself. When a harasser doesn’t stop, you may be able to address the issue at the company by following any rules specified in the employee handbook, most likely under the “sexual harassment policy.” You can also ask a supervisor or manager how you should file your complaint; you should document any steps you take to follow the policy outlined or told to you, including the date.
You should also keep documentation or evidence of the harassment itself. When there are witnesses, it is important to make a note of that in any journal you keep of the harassment. You should also keep copies of personnel documents, such as performance evaluations.
How do you Define Retaliation?
Retaliation is illegal under Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. Although employers are forbidden from retaliating against employees, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t retaliate in practice. Retaliation occurs when an adverse employment action is taken because an employee has pursued his or her rights under the law. It can take the form of terminating you, demoting you, or writing you up inappropriately.
Why Retain an Experienced Discrimination and Harassment Lawyer?
It is crucial to retain a knowledgeable sexual harassment attorney if you think you may need to litigate a harassment case. You should call the skilled lawyers of Phillips & Associates if you believe you might have a claim against your employer and need sound advice and advocacy. Our firm represents workers in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, Nassau County or Suffolk County. Call us at (866) 229-9441 or complete our online form.