The COVID-19 pandemic has changed much about the way we live our lives, especially the way we work. While technology has been a key part of adapting to our “new normal,” it has not prevented an unfortunate reality of pre-pandemic work-life: sexual harassment in the workplace is still prevalent. And while the nature of the harassment may have changed, the impact on victims is still as severe.
According to the recent articles published on Law.com and Forbes, while incidents of sexual harassment such as unwanted touching and physical contact in the workplace seem to be declining, harassment by digital means is on the rise. The move to digital platforms such as Zoom, the increase in informal communication such as text messages, and the lack of in-person witnesses can embolden a harasser to believe they can do or say things without consequence. In many cases, the normal “9 to 5” workday has blurred into 24/7 contact and communications between co-workers, bosses, or subordinates – giving a potential harasser a much greater opportunity to commit offenses.
Recently, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin was fired by The New Yorker Magazine for exposing himself to colleagues during a Zoom call. While this may seem like an obvious incident of sexual harassment, not all sexual harassment is always so explicit. Sexual harassment includes any type of unwelcome verbal or physical sexual attention – no matter when or where it occurs.
While it may have declined during the past year, sexual harassment in the physical workplace is still happening. In many cases, reduced staffing has created an environment with less oversight and accountability. And while masks have provided a protective barrier of anonymity for some, that same anonymity can also give potential harassers a false sense that they can commit an offense without consequence.
No one should have to feel intimidated or unsafe in their own work environment, even if that environment is now mostly digital. If you believe you’ve been subjected to sexual assault or harassment at work and would like advice, guidance, and strategy as to how to deal with it, we encourage you to set up a consultation with our firm. To do so, please complete our online questionnaire and we will get back to you right away with the next steps. New Jersey Employment Lawyers Richard Schall and Patricia Barasch are ready to help.