There are two categories of sexual harassment: economic and environmental. In a BLR webinar titled "'Sexting': The Latest Technology-Related Workplace Lawsuit Magnet; Reduce Your Risks Now," Tara Bedeau, Esq., outlined the difference between economic and environmental harassment and how they relate to using text messages in a harassing way.
Economic harassment used to be known as quid pro quo. It typically involves a supervisor or decision-maker. In this scenario, a tangible employment action (such as a promise of a benefit or threat of adverse action) is linked to sex. This has changed slightly in recent times to look at the situation more from the perspective of the economic harm done to the individual, and is now becoming known as economic harassment.
Environmental harassment is also known as a hostile work environment. It is defined as unwelcome offensive conduct, either based on a protected category or sexual in nature, that is severe or pervasive. This is not limited to supervisors, it can apply to anyone. There are three categories of environmental harassment: physical, verbal, and non-verbal or visual. Text messaging falls into the non-verbal or visual category. If sexual texts or images are sent, this could qualify as sexual harassment if the conduct is unwelcome. Even if the communications are welcomed, it can (and should) still represent a policy violation.
Tara Bedeau, Esq., is the founder and CEO of Precise Aim Consulting (PAC), a San Francisco Bay-area firm dedicated to the development and cultivation of organizational health. ( www.preciseaimconsulting.com). PAC provides consulting, coaching, and training services in the areas of diversity, ethics, workplace management, work/life balance, and employment law compliance, including unlawful harassment and discrimination as well as wage and hour law.