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Harassment Over Zoom? How Remote Workers Could Still Be Harassed at Work


The ways we work have changed considerably since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. With such a large number of employees switching to remote work, the lines between home and work activities have blurred, people are spending more time working than they were before, and some of the codes of conduct that govern workplace behavior have been left behind.

Although the switch to remote work has been beneficial for some, others have seen an increase in virtual workplace harassment. What exactly is virtual workplace harassment, and how are California employees protected from it? Read on to find out more about what you can do if you experience harassment while working remotely.

What Is Virtual Workplace Harassment?

Virtual workplace harassment is any kind of inappropriate workplace conduct that takes place over email, text, or a virtual meeting system, such as Zoom. It can be as simple as a coworker or supervisor being improperly dressed for an online meeting or as blatant as a boss sending an inappropriate text message about your appearance. It can also apply to requests to answer calls after hours or demands for video calls over phone calls.

The move away from in-office work and into the remote sphere did not decrease workplace harassment, in fact, it may have increased it. People working from home are able to more easily get away with conduct that would get them terminated in an office environment. It’s also more difficult to monitor video calls or remote meetings than meetings in an office, making harassment easier to cover up or deny.

According to a survey and study conducted earlier this year, 40 percent of women, genderqueer, and nonbinary people reported that they experienced more harassment since COVID-19 moved workers online, and about two percent of men said the same.

Recognizing Virtual Harassment

Virtual harassment tends to be more subtle than in-office harassment simply because no one is there to see it, and it can be more difficult to prove if it occurs over video calls. Some examples of virtual harassment include:

  • Sending unwanted emails or unsolicited information
  • Spreading rumors online
  • Making defamatory comments about a coworker online
  • Taking online meetings while improperly dressed
  • Encouraging others to bully or mistreat a coworker
  • Sending lewd or inappropriate photos or text messages
  • Inappropriate comments about a coworker’s appearance
  • Demanding employees attend meetings after hours
  • Berating an employee in a group meeting
  • Online threats
  • Sending a coworker a computer virus
  • Soliciting inappropriate photos or text messages
  • Stalking a coworker online

How Are Workers Protected from Virtual Harassment in CA?

The same laws that protect employees from harassment in the physical workplace also protect them in the virtual workplace. California law, specifically, the Fair Employment and Housing Act, prohibits workplace harassment of any kind. If you experience virtual harassment, take the following actions:

  • Inform your immediate supervisor or company HR department about the behavior, and ask that it be addressed immediately. Even if they don’t comply, this step is important to protect yourself and start the documentation chain for the harassment.
  • File a complaint with the S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) with as much detail and documentation about the harassment as possible.
  • The California DFEH will issue you a “right to sue” notice either immediately or after investigating the harassment, after which you can retain legal counsel and file a lawsuit.

How a California Employment Law Attorney Can Help

A California employment law attorney from Wagner Zemming Christensen, LLP, can help you understand your rights and pursue a claim of workplace harassment when you’ve been mistreated by coworkers or employers. We are familiar with California employment law and practiced in bringing claims of workplace harassment to court. Call 951-686-4800 today for a free, confidential case evaluation, and let us help you get back to a healthy working life.

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