Can Sexual Harassment Occur Online?

In today’s digital era, you can shop, read or look for a mate online. For employees connected through a company network or via email, can sexual harassment occur online?

In New York, sexual harassment occurs when a harasser creates a hostile work environment for his or her target, or when a worker is required to choose between submitting to a sexually oriented demand or suffering work-related consequences.

Sexual harassment can occur outside the physical presence of either the target or the harasser. Harassment occurs not only via email but through a variety of electronic means, including:

  • Facebook or other social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites can all be used to harass a stranger or a coworker. Electronic communication tends to ease norms of social communication, leading to misunderstandings of intent. Digital communication is also used to threaten, transmit explicitly sexual messages and materials and harass workers who are friends by virtue of their workplace.
  • Texting: Unwanted sexual overtures or threats are frequently transmitted via cellphone text.
  • Sexting: Sexting, or sending photographs with sexual content via cellphone, is a rising form of sexual harassment, along with inappropriate texting.
  • Stalking through an electronic medium: Any social media can be used by an employer or supervisor to harass and sexually intimidate a coworker or subordinate.

Electronic media can make the role of harasser easier. Without face-to-face confrontation, intimidation occurs through threat, coercion or inappropriate intimacy. However, digital harassment or discrimination leaves a trail of messages that can be saved and handed over to supervisors, your attorney or law enforcement if needed.

Harassment, discrimination and bullying occur each day somewhere in New York. If it happens to you, online or in person, seek experienced legal counsel.

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