Now that businesses throughout the Dallas area have shifted to remote work as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many employees find themselves working online from home. Meetings that may have been held in-person within the office setting or around a workplace conference table have now shifted to Zoom or other virtual meeting platforms. Yet, it is essential for employers to know that they still need to take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the remote workplace, and to handle remote sexual harassment when it does occur. By having policies in place for preventing and managing sexual harassment claims in remote work or work-from-home situations, Texas employers can protect themselves against sexual harassment claims.
Sexual Harassment Can Occur Virtually or Remotely in Texas
Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited under Texas state law and under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under both state and federal law, sexual harassment is prohibited as a form of unlawful sex discrimination.
Sexual harassment is defined under the Texas Labor Code as “unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, or physical touching of a sexual nature.” In any situation where an employee is subjected to these types of behaviors and those behaviors unreasonably interfere with the employee’s work performance or create a hostile or offensive work environment, then the employee may be able to file a sexual harassment claim. Employers need to understand when an employee can file a sexual harassment claim because in some situations the employer can be liable.
Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment in the Texas Workplace
Whether in-person or in work-from-home situations, employers can be held liable for sexual harassment in the workplace committed by another of its employees or even by one of its clients or customers. Indeed, Texas law says that employers can be held liable for an employee’s sexual harassment claim if the employee alleging harassment is able to prove that the employer knew or should have known about the sexual harassment and failed to take action to remedy it. In addition, an employer can be held liable for sexual harassment if an employee can prove that the employer’s actions were not reasonably designed to stop the sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment, therefore, can and does include sexually harassing text messages, computer-based instant messages, emails, videos, and more. Unlawful sexual harassment does not require in-person interaction or contact.
Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Remote or Virtual Workplace
What should an employer do to protect against sexual harassment claims arising out of sexual harassment in a remote or virtual work environment? Employers should consider the following:
- Make clear to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated over Zoom or any other virtual platform;
- Establish a specific complaint process for employees who have been sexually harassed over Zoom or another remote work tool, including the ability to make telephone or email complaints (since employees are not working in an office with relevant HR personnel); and
- Take action when an employee alleges virtual or remote sexual harassment.
Employers should also be aware of the forms sexual harassment might take in the remote workplace, such as:
- Employees or clients making sexual propositions, or quid pro quo propositions, over Zoom;
- Sexually harassing material (i.e., magazines, pictures, artwork) visible on camera in an employee’s at-home workspace;
- Employees inappropriately dressed on camera;
- Employees or clients suggesting that another employee should take off his or her clothes over Zoom, or should engage in other sexual behaviors; or
- Employees or clients making repeated jokes about sex, or using obscene language about sexual encounters, while engaged in Zoom work meetings.
Contact a Dallas Employment Law Attorney
If you have questions about protecting your business against sexual harassment claims and properly handing such claims during the age of remote work over Zoom, one of our Dallas employment lawyers can help. Contact Simon Paschal PLLC to learn more.