It wasn’t so long ago that sexual harassment at work rarely went beyond office doors. An employee who felt offended or threatened could escape to the sanctuary of his or her own home. But that’s no longer the case.
Welcome to sexual harassment in the technology age. Sexual harassment, like school bullying, can now follow someone home via social media and other online avenues, as well as text messaging. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “the speed and ease of posting or responding to the proliferation of messages and images on social media, sometimes by employees at the 11th hour, right before bed, in 140 characters or less, and oftentimes without aforethought, has spawned employee complaints of harassment, defamation, violation of a right to privacy and a host of other claims.”
None of this could have foreseeable when Congress approved Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or even in 1991 when the bill was amended. But federal law takes sexual harassment very seriously, no matter what form it takes or what avenue is used to conduct the harassment.
The EEOC reports that 64 percent of companies have policies in place that address sexual harassment in social media, and 70 percent have taken action against employees for using social media and texting as a method to harass someone.
In 2011, the EEOC sued a retail chain whose store manager sexually harassed one of his female employees via text messages. The messages threatened retaliation if she told anyone. The employee, who reported the incidents to the company’s legal department. The company paid $2.3 million to settle the lawsuit, the EEOC reported.
A court that same year upheld a $1.6 million verdict in favor of a Walmart employee who was harassed on a blog by co-workers outside the workplace, according to news reports. The blog, the court found, harassed the worker because she was disabled, The employer knew it was happening but did nothing to stop the harassment.
Employees often disagree about whether something is a joke or harassment. But technology has allowed sexual harassment to take on so many forms, whether it’s through Facebook messages, cyberstalking, sexting or threats via text messages.
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