No worker deserves to face discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is a common workplace occurrence despite various legal protections in place to protect employees against it, making it all the more important for California workers to understand how sexual harassment is defined in the workplace, what forms it can take, and how to exercise their rights to prevent it.

Sexual Harassment in Virtual Workplaces

You may be surprised to learn that sexual harassment can be an issue for remote workers as well, especially in the wake of the pandemic. The sad truth is that even virtual work environments aren’t exempt from workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment. Can work-from-home employees report sexual misconduct in California?

Keep reading to learn what steps remote workers can take to report and prevent sexual harassment in the virtual work sphere.

Laws Against Sexual Harassment in California

The legal definition of sexual harassment is defined by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) as “unwanted and sexually suggestive conduct that is either so severe or pervasive that it creates an abusive working environment.” Sexually inappropriate behaviors at work can entail a broad range of behaviors, such as:

  • Sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Any verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature
  • Unwelcome comments about physical appearance or sex

It’s important to understand that sexual harassment can occur regardless of the physical proximity of individuals, making it equally applicable in remote work settings. In virtual workspaces, sexual harassment can take various forms, including:

  • Verbal Harassment: This includes inappropriate comments, jokes, or conversations of a sexual nature during virtual meetings, emails, or other forms of communication.
  • Non-Verbal Harassment: Sending explicit or suggestive images, videos, or other visual materials electronically can constitute non-verbal sexual harassment.
  • Cyber Harassment: Unwanted advances, requests, or messages of a sexual nature through online platforms, social media, or other digital channels can occur in remote work settings.
  • Hostile Virtual Environment: Creating an atmosphere of hostility, exclusion, or discomfort based on an individual's gender or sex through online communication platforms or virtual interactions is a form of sexual harassment.

Types of Nonphysical Sexual Harassment

Nonphysical sexual harassment is unlawful in any work environment, regardless of whether the workplace is in-person or virtual. While nonphysical sexual harassment doesn’t entail direct physical contact, it can still have substantial effects on employees’ health, morale, and well-being, not to mention the potential to negatively affect their job performance and personal lives.

There are various forms of nonphysical sexual harassment that can arise in virtual workplaces, including:

  • Inappropriate messages – This entails sending unsolicited and inappropriate messages or emails of a sexual nature, such as lewd jokes, explicit content, or sexual propositions.
  • Unwanted advances in the virtual workspace – Sexual harassers may also attempt to make unwelcome sexual advances in virtual settings through online correspondence (such as Slack and email) or making inappropriate remarks during virtual meetings (such as on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms).
  • Inappropriate gestures or language during video calls – Engaging in inappropriate behavior during video calls and online meetings, such as making suggestive gestures, displaying explicit materials, or wearing inappropriate clothing, is unlawful in California workplaces.
  • Spreading derogatory rumors – California employees are legally prohibited from making false claims or spreading malicious rumors about another worker’s sexual orientation, sexual conduct, and other personal aspects that may be considered sexual in nature.
  • Sharing inappropriate content – Sharing explicit or suggestive images, videos, or links without the recipient's consent is considered sexual harassment in California workplaces.
  • Invasive personal questions – Asking intrusive questions about someone's personal life, sexual preferences, or dating habits is prohibited in physical and virtual workplaces alike.
  • Sexual bullying – This involves the use of offensive or derogatory language that is sexual in nature, which can create a hostile work environment.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these types of non-physical sexual harassment in a virtual workplace, it's important to document incidents, report them to your employer, and consult with a trusted employment lawyer as soon as possible to avoid unjust ramifications and protect your overall well-being in the virtual workplace.

3 Steps to Report Sexual Harassment as a Remote Worker

How can at-home employees address and prevent instances of sexual harassment in remote work environments? First and foremost, it’s imperative to seek representation from an experienced employment law attorney with an in-depth understanding of sexual harassment laws in California, as a qualified lawyer can recommend the best legal recourse based on the unique factors of your case.

Generally, remote workers can take the following steps to address incidents of sexual harassment while working remotely:

  1. Document everything. It’s important to Keep a record of any incidents of sexual harassment, including dates, times, locations (including virtual platforms), involved individuals, and detailed descriptions of inappropriate behaviors. This documentation can be crucial evidence if a formal complaint or legal action becomes necessary.
  2. Familiarize yourself with company policies. While there are various state and federal laws in place to protect against sexual harassment in California workplaces, some organizations may include company-specific policies in employer policies and procedures. It's important for workers to understand how company-specific policies can affect their rights and alter the path to resolve the issues at hand.
  3. Report inappropriate behaviors to the appropriate channels. Remote workers facing sexual harassment should report any incidents to designated individuals, such as the HR department or specified supervisors. If the employer doesn’t outline a specific process for reporting sexual harassment and other misconduct in the workplace, workers should collaborate with a trusted attorney to determine which legal strategy will be most effective to employ.

Representing Wronged Employees in Monterey County

At Polaris Law Group, LLP, we’ve been fighting on behalf of wronged employees in California for over 25 years. Our seasoned Monterey County attorney is well-versed in the intricacies of state employment laws and has a proven track record of success in various employment law disputes, from wrongful termination to pregnancy discrimination. If you’ve been unfairly treated, harassed, or discriminated against in your place of work, it’s essential to seek counsel from a qualified lawyer as soon as possible to safeguard your financial security.

Have you experienced harassment or discrimination at work? Turn to a lawyer you can trust to protect your employee rights. Call (888) 796-4010 to schedule a free consultation.

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