Navigating the "New" Sexual Harassment

When most people think of workplace sexual harassment, they might imagine inappropriate touching between co-workers or indecent sexual bargaining between superiors and subordinates. While these behaviors are certainly not extinct, sexual harassment has largely migrated to other, more subtle behaviors that can make hardworking employees uncomfortable.

Much of this shift in behavior results from our adoption of technology. Suddenly, we're communicating with one another differently: texts, social media, and workplace chat programs. Even workplace culture has changed in much of the corporate sphere. Companies like Google have created a template for more casual, friendly, and permissive atmospheres in the office. This is new territory for our much of our workforce and opportunities for harassment have fragmented.

Common instances of modern sexual harassment include (but are not limited to):

  • Drunk texting. Now that we suddenly have access to many of our co-workers 24/7 via text, the opportunity for inappropriate texts is present. Even off hours, these communications can be harassment.
  • Frequent hugs. It's not unheard of for co-workers to share polite signs of affection during the day. However, some employees make take advantage of this atmosphere by engaging in frequent hugging. This is harassment.
  • Inappropriate media sharing. Workplace chat is now used frequently and programs like Slack, Voxer, and Trillian allow co-workers to share links, photos, and even sound recordings. These tools can be abused to share inappropriate material (just as texting can, as well).
  • Asking sexual questions. This has always been considered harassment, but in our new corporate culture, the line between friendly or irreverent conversation and inappropriate prodding into someone's personal life can be more easily approached (and crossed).
  • Offensive comments on sexual orientation. It's 2016 and, culturally, we have embraced different sexual orientations and gender identities. Negative or even prodding, frequent comments about an employee's personal preferences on these matters is considered sexual harassment.

"Have I been harassed?"

Because many of these new manifestations of sexual harassment are largely less aggressive than classic examples, it's sometimes difficult to know whether harassment has actually occurred. Sometimes, a line is accidentally crossed and the perpetrator (or a superior, or both) recognizes this, they apologize, and the matter is settled.

However, unaddressed instances of these behaviors, or patterns of these behaviors do constitute sexual harassment. While conversations with a superior may remedy these violations, too many workplaces remain insensitive to these issues. When this occurs, legal action is called for.

At Beckham Kittle LLP, we have represented employees from an array of different industries dealing with sexual harassment claims. Our experienced and aggressive Birmingham employment law attorneys believe that these behaviors are a violation of employee rights and call for swift and incisive legal action on the victim's behalf.

Want to learn more about how our firm can advocate for you during this difficult time? Contact us today.

Categories: Sexual Harassment

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