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Virtual sexual harassment in the workplace: What is it?

Over the years, remote work has become increasingly common in America — and 2020 saw a huge number of companies shift that way.

If you think that may have eliminated a lot of the possibilities for workplace sexual harassment, you can be forgiven — but you’re wrong. Roughly 41% of people in this country have been subjected to online harassment in one form or another — and much of it is sexual in nature. Remote work hasn’t stopped abuses from happening: If anything, it’s just made the abusers more creative.

What does virtual sexual harassment look like?

When sexual harassment goes digital, it can be either direct or indirect in nature.

In a virtual context, direct sexual harassment can include things like:

  • Emails with obscene jokes, images, memes or gifs
  • Text messages or instant messages with obscene photos from the harasser
  • Propositions and requests for sexual favors sent by text or instant messages
  • Lewd comments or inappropriate displays over Skype or Zoom meetings

Indirect sexual harassment online may occur (for a while) without the victim’s knowledge. It can include things like:

  • Messages via email, text or through online forums that discuss the victim’s gender identity, sexuality or sexual activity
  • Referring to the victim in derogatory terms that are related to their gender, gender identity or sexual orientation and habits
  • The sharing of sexually explicit photos of the victim (or photos that have been altered to look like the victim — even if they’re clearly fake)

Some abusers seem to think that the normal work rules don’t apply when they’re working online — but these kinds of actions should never be accepted or tolerated.

What can you do if you’re the target of online sexual harassment at work?

Fight back. You have a right to be free of sexual harassment in the workplace — even if your workplace is online. Speak with a San Diego attorney about your situation as soon as possible to learn what steps you should take next.


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