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Online sexual harassment can lead to lawsuits

In the past, sexual harassment used to be something that had to happen face to face -- but the electronic age has ushered in new opportunities for the inventive predator.

Or, maybe it's just that the physical distance and sense of anonymity (even when you're not hiding your identity) created by a computer makes some people bolder and willing to take chances they wouldn't take in person.

Either way, there are some basics that every employee with access to a company computer should know:

1. If an action would be considered inappropriate in the office, it's also inappropriate to do it over the computer.

For example, take the case of a recent lawsuit filed by a woman whose business associate turned an ordinary business discussion into an opportunity to ask for a date. He eventually decided to cap off his conversation by sending the woman pictures of his genitals -- all from the company computer. He, and the company for which he works, are both being sued for sexual harassment.

2. You can sexually harass someone both by sending material to them and by posting material about them online.

Sending emails back and forth to coworkers discussing the anatomical virtues of the new secretary or package deliveryman or using sexual innuendo in real-time chats with coworkers is a big mistake that can end in a lawsuit. So is using the company email to proposition someone, send adult-oriented jokes or sexually-charged memes.

3. Don't view pornographic material at work.

While watching pornographic videos online at work has become a staple joke on television sitcoms, in real life it can lead to serious problems. You could end up violating your company's code of ethics, be guilty of sexual harassment if other people happen to see the offensive material and violate the law (depending on what sites you visit). Be smart and simply stick to work-related sites while you are work, even if your employer doesn't block your access to the broader internet.

If you've been the victim of online sexual harassment, you don't have to tolerate it -- even if your company refuses to take a stand and stop it. Contact an attorney with experience in the field of sexual harassment for more advice.

Source: Bloomberg, "It's Probably Not OK to Send Naked Pictures on LinkedIn," Polly Mosendz and Rebecca Greenfield, June 14, 2017

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