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What are your rights if you’re harassed by a co-worker online?

On Behalf of | May 7, 2024 | Sexual Harassment

At a time when people can connect with each other any time of the day or night through all forms of electronic means, a person’s workday often doesn’t end when they go home. That can be a benefit when someone needs flexible hours. However, it also means that some people feel free to engage in behavior they wouldn’t otherwise in a workplace.

Many people – including some employers – believe that there’s nothing employers can do about anything that happens between employees outside of the workplace or work-related event. That’s not the case.

Employers’ obligations

An employee can’t sexually harass or engage in discriminatory behavior against another employee via social media, text, emails, phone calls or in person without potential consequences. An employer has an obligation to investigate any such behavior that’s reported to them and to take appropriate action. Fortunately, screenshots of this harassment provide evidence – even if someone deletes a post later, as do phone messages.

That wasn’t always the case. However, courts have ruled that social media and other communications are an “extension of the workplace.” Harassment outside the workplace can affect a person’s ability to feel safe and even to do their job – creating a “hostile work environment.”

Substantial fines can result if employers do nothing

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ordered employers who didn’t take the appropriate action to pay substantial penalties. For example, a leading electronics retailer had to pay $2 million because it failed to act when a young employee reported that the store manager was sexually harassing her via text. Another employer business had to pay $1.6 million for not taking action when a disabled employee reported online harassment by co-workers.

It’s important to understand your rights so that you can assert them if you need to and so that you expect your employer to take action. If they don’t, getting legal guidance can help you seek the justice and compensation you deserve.