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Discrimination and Sexual Harassment in New Jersey in the Age of Remote Work and Zoom Meetings

With coronavirus numbers surging, Gov. Phil Murphy has stated that a new statewide lockdown is “on the table,” according to news reports. Whether or not the state enters a new lockdown, the state’s skyrocketing COVID-19 cases will likely lead to more and more employers considering remote work for their employees. That, in turn, will likely mean more and more use of technology platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. However, as we’ve seen from recent headlines and news stories, this type of work environment presents its own risks when it comes to discrimination and sexual harassment. If you’ve suffered discrimination or harassment in a virtual meeting, don’t wait… reach out to an experienced New Jersey workplace discrimination attorney today to discuss your legal options.

The use of new technology like Zoom has proven to be fertile ground for both embarrassing blunders and offensive misconduct. These incidents have included a woman who inadvertently broadcast herself on the toilet during a Zoom call; a Brazilian government worker accidentally captured having sex during a Zoom call, and a prominent TV legal analyst who accidentally broadcast his act of self-gratification during an election simulation call with colleagues from the New Yorker.

Some of these stories may yield laughs from readers, but this actually points to a serious issue. Sexual harassment can occur in many ways and isn’t limited to face-to-face encounters. Being involuntarily exposed to unwanted comments, jokes, or material of a sexual nature can also be a form of sexual harassment, even when it happens over Zoom.

Here in New Jersey, to qualify as sexual harassment, the conduct must have been so severe and/or pervasive that a reasonable person would have believed that the “conditions of employment” were altered.

A colleague’s act of forgetting to turn off her audio and video and, as a result, accidentally broadcasting her pee break to dozens of colleagues on Zoom probably isn’t anything that can form the basis of a legal claim. But, by contrast, say your supervisor attends a one-on-one Zoom conference with you while dressed (or undressed) in an obviously inappropriate fashion and/or makes improper sexually charged comments during the call. That might yield a different result and a successful case when it comes to harassment.

Age discrimination and new virtual meeting technology

Inappropriateness over Zoom or other similar technology isn’t limited to sexual harassment. The use of this technology in more and more work-related settings can also expose age discrimination.

Say, for example, that you experience difficulties joining your online meeting or navigating the software’s features (like turning the audio and/or video on or off) and are teased by your supervisor with ageist comments like “dinosaur,” “relic,” or “Boomer.” Those age-biased comments could potentially be an important part of a viable age discrimination case.

A window into your private facts that you may not have disclosed at work

Even when no one is acting inappropriately, your colleagues are still getting a window into your private life. Perhaps your Zoom calls have revealed things you’d never divulged at work, like that you have an elderly parent for whom you’re caring or that you have a same-sex romantic partner living with you. Adverse action against you after these personal details become known at your workplace could be part of the foundation of a successful discrimination lawsuit.

Illegal workplace discrimination and/or harassment can happen in many different places, including on your online meeting platform like Zoom. Whether you suffered discrimination or harassment in an online meeting or a face-to-face encounter, you may be positioned to recover substantial compensation in court. Before you head to the courthouse, though, make sure you have the legal representation you need to succeed. Reach out to the experienced workplace harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates to get the diligent and effective advocacy you deserve. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation to discuss how we can help.

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