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Is online sexual harassment possible?

Online sexual harassment is possible, and it can occur in the workplace. In fact, with the growing reliance on digital means of communication and doing business, it's likely that more people will see harassment in these environments. This is especially true because many people no longer work in the same buildings with others or engage in face-to-face teamwork on a regular basis. Often, teams are working from home or disparate locations and use email, chat and conferencing for communications.

If online sexual harassment is possible, what does it look like? The definitions are still very much the same: Sexual harassment is an action that either requires sexual favors of another in return for something or makes another person uncomfortable with inappropriate sexual activity or comments. Online sexual harassment is usually divided into those major types: items being sent and items being posted.

Items being sent to an individual can be considered harassment if they are inappropriate and sexual in nature, especially if they have not been invited by the other person. For example, if someone receives pornographic images in an email from another coworker, this could be a case of sexual harassment. The same is true if one coworker propositions another in an inappropriate way via chat.

Items posted about someone are items that one person posts online, in forums, or to several people in an email or chat. This can include pictures of the other person or statements about the other person that are sexual or inappropriate in nature.

Workplace sexual harassment rules do cover online behavior, especially those that are conducted using employer computer systems. If you believe you are being harassed online by a coworker or supervisor, then consider speaking with a lawyer about your rights and options for taking action.

Source: FindLaw, "Understanding Online Sexual Harassment," accessed July 15, 2016

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