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Social media changes sexual harassment at work

In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 12,680 complaints of sexual harassment, demonstrating the prevalence sexual harassment in modern workplaces. Our workplaces are not the only hosts of sexual harassment because of social media.

Despite the increase of businesses’ use of social media, courts have given little guidance as to addressing social media sexual harassment claims. It lets employers and employees to decide where the line is drawn.

New levels of harassment online

Social media allows employees to have newer, more subtle ways to send and receive offensive remarks. While employees may dismiss certain statements as jokes, employers often have to decide where joking ends and harassment begins. Some of the types of harassment employees experience online include:

  1. Virtual harassment – via social media
  2. Textual harassment – receiving inappropriate text messages
  3. Sexting – sexually explicit or offensive photos sent via electronic media
  4. Cyberstalking – harassing someone online via their social media presence.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter give employees the tools to harass others and enable workplace harassment to continue or increase outside of work – leaving no safe place for victims. Despite not being physically at work, employers still have the responsibility to address this conduct.

Addressing virtual harassment at work

It’s up to the employers to correct inappropriate conduct in the workplace and protect employees. And it is the employee’s duty to report when sexual harassment is happening – even documenting little actions early on can save from further harassment.

Employers typically have effective policies for sexual harassment claims, but they should also prevent inappropriate situations. Many employers are taking premeditative measures by having a clear social media policy for employee communications. Some also host sexual harassment trainings for both in the workplace and online.

Training should reflect the employer’s policies on offensive conduct, regardless of delivery. It should also state the procedure for reporting harassment and reinforcing the employer's policy against retaliation. Not every employer is the same, so check your employers policies to avoid or report misconduct.

Your safety should come first

Sexual harassment can be physically and emotionally draining, and no one deserves to feel unsafe while at work or home. Any potential victims should immediately notify their employers. If the harassment continues, voice the importance of a safe work environment for men and women.

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