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Can Inappropriate Social Media Posts Be Considered Sexual Harassment?

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Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate on Behalf of Those Subjected to Sexual Harassment on Social Media.

In decades past, behavior that would be considered blatant sexual harassment today was tolerated and even widely accepted. Unfortunately, this pattern of inappropriate behavior ranging from sexually explicit comments to unwanted physical contact continues today, despite the law. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is any type of workplace behavior that creates a hostile or offensive work environment.

While direct physical contact and sexually explicit comments are obvious forms of sexual harassment, messages, pictures, or other inappropriate or offensive remarks sent over social media may also be considered sexual harassment.

What Is Considered Sexual Harassment Via Social Media?

Before Facebook and Instagram, sexual harassment in the workplace usually involved unwelcome physical contact or inappropriate comments based on an individual’s gender or sex. Fortunately, there are laws and policies in place that protect the rights of employees who feel that they are being harassed or their rights are being violated by an employer or a co-worker. However, in the age of the internet and social media, social media harassment is on the rise.

There are two form of sexual harassment, including quid pro quo and hostile work environment, both of which can occur via social media. In a quid pro quo claim, a supervisor or another employer who is in a position of power demands some sort of sexual favor from the employee in exchange for a promotion, a raise, or some other favorable treatment. The harasser may also threaten termination, a negative performance review, a demotion, or other negative actions if the employee does not comply with the demands. For example, if an employer threatens to post personal information if you do not agree to their unwanted sexual advances, you may pursue a quid pro quo claim.

If you are being discriminated against or harassed on a regular basis via social media and your employer has not taken any steps to protect your rights and stop the behavior, you are urged to consider a hostile work environment claim. Examples include receiving sexually explicit messages via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Unfortunately, because this type of harassment is not confined to the regular work hours, workers are often targeted at all hours of the day and night.

What Are the Different Types of Social Media Harassment in the Workplace?

Businesses rely on social media to interact with consumers, raise awareness about their products and services, and identify potential new business opportunities. However, when an employer or fellow co-worker crosses the line and uses social media to engage in behavior that creates a toxic work environment, it may be considered sexual harassment. The following are examples of social media sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Virtual harassment: This is any kind of offensive or inappropriate comments or messages sent via social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
  • Textual harassment: This occurs any time an employee receives a text message that includes inappropriate or sexually explicit content.
  • Cyberstalking: This type of harassment occurs when an employer or co-worker obsessively follows every social media platform of another employee with the intent to harass or intimidate the employee.

The following are examples of behavior that would be considered social media sexual harassment:

  • Your employer sends you frequent messages via email, text, or social media platforms asking you out on a date. After consistently turning down his offer, your employer becomes increasingly persistent and eventually threatens to withhold a promotion unless you agree to go on a date with him.
  • You receive an inappropriate or sexually explicit photo from an employer or co-worker via social media. When an employer or a co-worker is communicating via social media, they may think that it is acceptable to send a message via text, email, or social media platform that they would never say in person. However, if a co-workers crosses the line of what is acceptable and their continued behavior makes you uncomfortable, this is an example of sexual harassment.
  • Your employer or a fellow co-worker sends you offensive messages via text or email about your sexuality or gender identity. According to the EEOC, sexual harassment does not only include comments or behavior that is of a sexual nature. It also includes offensive or derogatory remarks that make the person uncomfortable. For example, if you are transgender and you receive hateful and transphobic messages via social media about which bathroom you are using, this is an example of sexual harassment.

How Can Social Media Harassment in the Workplace Be Prevented?

All employees are entitled to a safe work environment. Since the advent of the internet and a growing number of social media platforms, employers have had to update their policies. The following are examples of workplace strategies that can help prevent sexual harassment on social media:

  • Establish a harassment and bullying policy. It is important for all employers to create and enforce a robust policy that prohibits harassment or bullying of any kind. The policy should clearly communicate what is expected of employees and that discriminatory or harassing behavior will not be tolerated. The policy should also clearly state the consequences for any kind of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
  • Create a social media policy. In today’s day and age, it is crucial that all companies have a social media policy in place. The policy should address the company’s expectations regarding social media posts, which should be professional and respectful in nature. In addition, the policy should identify specific behavior that could be interpreted as harassing, discriminatory, or bullying and the resulting consequences for this type of behavior. It should also provide employees with detailed information about how to report any grievances with Human Resources (HR) or other individuals who have a leadership position within the company.
  • Inform employees of company rules regarding social media. This should be the most detailed part of the social media policy. The following issues should be addressed:
    • Who is allowed to post on behalf of the company?
    • What is the policy regarding photos or videos posted from inside the workplace?
    • What is considered confidential information and therefore prohibited from being posted online?
    • What types of language and imagery are prohibited from being posted on social media?
  • Take all complaints seriously. When sexual harassment complaints are not taken seriously, it creates a culture where employees do not feel safe. By encouraging employees to report incidents of sexual harassment, including those involving social media, it sends a clear message to all employees that this behavior will not be tolerated. It is also important that the consequences that are imposed are consistent, regardless of the employees’ position within the company.

If you are able to prove that you were the target of social media sexual harassment, you may be entitled to financial compensation. In order to have a successful claim, it is important that you collect as much evidence as possible, including copies of emails, texts, and threatening or discriminatory messages on social media platforms. Depending on the details of the case, you may be eligible for personal and financial damages, including lost wages if the harassment caused you to take time off from work, emotional trauma and distress, as well as the impact that the social media harassment has had on your quality of life.

Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate on Behalf of Those Subjected to Sexual Harassment on Social Media

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not only unacceptable, it is illegal. If you have been the target of workplace social media sexual harassment, you are urged to contact one of our Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey and Philadelphia, we serve clients in South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.

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