What You Can Do To Combat Online Sexual Harassment in a Workplace


We live in a world where 3 in every 4 sexual harassment claims in a workplace go unreported. Despite competent laws, sexual harassment remains a rampant issue. This happens because some women are clouded by self-doubt when experiencing harassment. Thoughts like ‘maybe he/she doesn’t mean it that way,’ ‘maybe I’ll lose my job,’ or ‘maybe no one will understand or they don’t feel safe enough to voice their concerns. As employers, it is our responsibility to provide them with this safe space. It is imperative to make them understand when the line is being crossed and what they can do if this does occur.

Another challenge organizations face in today’s hybrid, or remote structure is battling online sexual harassment. As per a study by Rights Of Women, nearly 1 in 2 women, who have experienced sexual harassment at work, reported experiencing some or all of it online and 75% of women experiencing sexual harassment at work feel their employer is not doing enough to protect or support them from the abuse. This can seriously impact the employee’s mental health and disrupt their lives and work. An employer must focus on eliminating gray areas through proper training courses so that their employees can identify inappropriate behavior. While sexual harassment is alarmingly common, over 36% of organizations do not provide anti-harassment training. We need to change this! 

Now, most workplaces have a Prevention of Sexual Harassment Policy (POSH), but how do you ensure it is implemented correctly? How can an organization ensure its employees understand what the gray areas are? As per a report, 16% of people surveyed didn’t know what marks illegal behavior at work, and 32% of employees were unaware that jokes could also qualify as misconduct. To help your employees establish a distinction between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, organizations need to conduct regular training sessions that include tips on identifying harassers and reporting them. It is also essential to regularly update the employee sexual harassment policies to be more inclusive since it’s not just women who fall prey to sexual harassment; it’s all genders, including the LGBTQ community.. 

Here we have outlined some acts that will help you understand what counts as sexual harassment online at work, which is the most common form of workplace harassment, as per the laws. 

  • When somebody demands you to get on a video call for non-work related conversations
  • Taking screenshots of colleagues during a meeting without their permission 
  • Sending unwanted content to them on social media or other platforms of communication 
  • Commenting about another person’s sexuality  
  • Make sexual advances without consent 
  • Sending explicit photos or videos without consent from the receiver 
  • Using derogatory terms of any kind 
  • Sending sexually suggestive messages 
  • Sharing inappropriate jokes 
  • Sharing links to inappropriate websites 
  • Building pressure to meet in person 

These are just a few common factors in sexual harassment complaints, but the list doesn’t end there. 

What can an organization do? 

An organization needs to be comprehensive when tackling online sexual harassment. You not only need strict punishments, but you also need to protect your employees and work towards minimizing such incidents. Since most cases of sexual harassment include perpetrators being in positions of power, it becomes all the more important to push your employees toward voicing their concerns. Here’s how you can build a secure structure for your employees. 

Revamp existing policies 

Post-COVID, several organizations have shifted to a remote or hybrid model of working; however, their policies do not cover the structure in its entirety. It is vital to update your employee sexual harassment policies in line with the changing work environment. Several organizations are now making POSH a zero-tolerance policy by having their employees sign on it. This entails immediate termination and legal actions against the harasser. 

Develop comprehensive training programs 

We know how important it is to maintain a healthy work environment for our employees. You must have a comprehensive training program that addresses all possible concerns and enables your employees to feel safe. It should also be developed keeping both the victim and the perpetrator in mind. With a trained workforce, you will be able to substantially reduce compliance risk as well. You can employ a Learning Management System to help you develop a thorough training program. Here are some essential aspects that prevention of sexual harassment training must include. 

Define behavioral expectations 

Defining workplace etiquette is considered a best practice because it details how you expect your employees to behave during work, especially with a remote working model since it can be hard to develop a common system. Attendance at sexual harassment training sessions must be made mandatory for all employees regardless of their position in the company, and it must cover the safeguards and punishments. This will help your employees feel safe and make them understand what counts as sexual harassment online. 

As per Urbanic and Associates, over 70% of women who experience sexual harassment in workplaces do not report an incident. But why are these women not reporting the incidents? Well, it could be because 98% of the women experience at least one incident of retaliation. Educating victims on secure reporting can lessen concerns. 

Publicize reporting procedures 

Your training program must include a secure reporting structure that enables your employees to feel safe talking about their experiences. It is essential to showcase that your organization cares about its employees and will do everything to help them, especially while working in a remote setup. 

Ensure responsiveness 

A detailed training program will also include measures you can take to ensure responsiveness. If an employee comes forward with a complaint, it must be taken seriously and handled sensitively. It is important to note that the incident is traumatizing for the victim and can get overwhelming to talk about. Sexual harassment can have severe and long-term effects on a person’s mental health. The abuse can trigger anxiety and even depression. This is why you must be patient in listening to their report and assure them that appropriate action will be taken against the perpetrator. It is important to also help the victim recover over time by providing therapy sessions or any other form of assistance needed. 

Set up a diverse POSH committee or board 

While the HR team is completely capable of handling sensitive matters, it is often advised to have a diverse committee or board to help make unbiased decisions. A group of individuals from inside and outside of the organization will be better positioned to investigate. The external member can be a legal expert or an NGO that works on similar issues. 

If you are concerned about the safety of your employees and do not have a competent training program in place, we can help you build one. Auzmor Learn is a Learning Management System that offers editable, scalable, and effective learning courses to align perfectly with the needs of your diverse organization. Get in touch with us to know more about what you need to build a safe work environment. 

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