Social Media and Sexual Harassment

Offices are a place of business… usually. The line between work and personal lives is being blurred as 9-to-5 jobs go out the window and professional and personal lives blend.

A direct comment that could be deemed sexual harassment is now an irregularity in physical places of business. Social media is a more subtle outlet for sexual harassment.  With policies and procedures in place for more direct harassment, companies may be overlooking social media sexual harassment. Ensure every employee enjoys a harassment free work place by taking action now.

What is social media sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment online is very similar to in-office incidents. Both are unwelcome sexual behaviors, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. This includes sexually suggestive behavior, offensive photos, repeated requests to go out and written emails. However these aren’t the only possibilities. Social media is just the newest outlet.

  • Social media sexual harassment can include cases of bosses or coworkers making unwanted sexual comments, suggestions and advances on your Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.
  • Whether these actions take place during the work day or not, if the employee being harassed feels uncomfortable by a co-workers comment on a friend’s wall or after receiving a sexually-based tweet, sexual harassment is taking place.

Some may feel the anonymity of online communities, or the nature of social media sites themselves, promote sharing without professional accountability. This may be thoughts on another co-workers looks, sexual orientation or something completely different. While sharing is encouraged through social media networks, lines can be blurred when it comes to distinguishing between personal use and professionalism,

How do I address it?

Addressing sexual harassment is often a training HR departments conduct with staff shortly after hire. Most businesses have policies in place for how a case of sexual harassment should be handled and reported. However, when it comes to social media, many are at a loss. Create an ope

n environment where reporting a case of sexual harassment can be discussed without fear of judgment or confidentiality breaches and put a policy in place that is social media specific.

  • Always ask for evidence. You want to get as much information as possible whether it’s a link, screen shot, etc. Ask to see it yourself online when possible to make sure no editing has taken place.
  • Talk to both parties. Much of what we say is in our tone and body language. It is easy to misconstrue a text, IM or Facebook message. Hearing both sides of the story is incredibly important when it comes to dealing with a case of sexual harassment that doesn’t take place in person.
  • Look for patterns in the alleged harasser. A one-time incident may be a miscommunication, but repeated messages that make another feel uncomfortable isn’t – especially after the matter has been addressed.
  • Make sure your sexual harassment policy includes information regarding personal emails and social media accounts. Having a policy in place will not only encourage those being harassed to take action according to procedure, but it may play the role of deterrent for future cases.

As a part of the HR department, or as the entire HR department which is often the case at small businesses, recognizing that in-office sexual harassment can transcend working hours and platforms is essential to addressing any situation that arises. Work with your company to create a social media section of your sexual harassment policy so it is clear what is crossing the line as personal and professional lives blend with social media. Friending a co-worker on Facebook may seem like a good idea, but sometimes it’s just better to leave it at the office.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

Author Bio: Erica Bell is a small business writer who focuses on topics such as HR software and social media trends. She is a web content writer for Media.


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