After a shocking national report revealed 42 per cent of women workers have experienced sexual harassment online during lockdown, a Derby solicitors’ firm has pledged action to help.
The Rights Of Women’s survey between November 22 and December 15 also reported a 23% increase of such abuse since March 2020.
Alex Bullmore, an employment solicitor at Smith Partnership, said: “Colleagues have made us aware of examples which range from men exposing themselves during meetings on Zoom to unwanted sexual approaches on LinkedIn. It is horrendous but also surprising because it is not as if the men are anonymous.
“We need perpetrators and employers to be aware that, under the Equality Act, sexual harassment occurs when a person engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, this conduct has the purpose of violating the other person’s dignity or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
In the Rights Of Women report, one woman highlighted how working from home has enabled her harassers to further invade her privacy: “Having to let colleagues into my bedroom (via video meetings) means I feel my privacy has been invaded and nowhere is safe. The men now have more ammunition to mock me with.”
Another spoke of her experience of cyber harassment, via Zoom: “The director of the company uses Zoom to take screenshots of myself and other women which he shares with colleagues making derogatory statements and implying the photos look like we’re doing sexual acts.”
A third woman told of the impact working from home has had on her ability to report sexual harassment: “The fact it’s on Zoom in front of others in a jokey manner makes it difficult to address.”
Alex added: “These are shocking case studies. Businesses can take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and it is important that they do.
“Measures that employers can consider taking include: Conducting investigations into the extent of the potential problem in the business and identifying any areas of risk.
“They should also have a culture of zero-tolerance towards any harassment and an environment where all employees are encouraged to report any inappropriate behaviour.
“They should make sure policies are up to date, accessible and clearly set out the zero-tolerance approach, and how employees can report inappropriate conduct.
“Finally, they should ensure managers are trained appropriately, and that they deal with any complaints quickly, appropriately and effectively and provide anti-harassment training for all employees.”