Harassment over a video conference?

Q:  I recently participated in a Zoom event, which was paid for by my company, but coordinated, sponsored and delivered by one of our vendors.  During the event, this one participant who worked for this vendor, started chatting and messaging me outside of the Zoom presentation.  At first, it was just reasonable chat.  Then, it became inappropriate.  He started commenting about items in my background that are very boring and typical of what a background would look like during a Zoom call (an antique print from an old soda advertisement, a photo of my dog and my diplomas).  The comments were amusing, and maybe a bit odd, at the beginning, but quickly turned overly sexual and offensive.  Now, I am not sure what to do.  This person (let’s call him “Tom”) doesn’t work in my company, but works for our vendor.

A:  I am sorry that this happened to you.  I am sure it was upsetting.

First, you should communicate what occurred to your manager.  Your company is required to provide a safe work environment for you.  Even though it was someone outside of your company, your company is still responsible for providing a safe work environment for you and all of your colleagues.

Your manager should take your concern seriously.  It sounds like you were harassed.  Your manager should listen to your concern and involve the appropriate parties to discuss how this will be addressed.  Your manager may involve HR, an outside party or your company’s legal counsel.  Even though “Tom” was not an employee of your company, “Tom” still has to be told that his behavior was way out of line and, very likely, unlawful.

We have had situations where a vendor, like a delivery person, a partner company or a vendor employs an individual who has harassed one of our client’s employee.  It doesn’t matter if the person harassing someone is employed by a vendor.  Your company has a responsibility to contact this vendor and explain that “Tom” was inappropriate.  I would also request that “Tom” be disciplined.  Further, I think that your company should request that “Tom” no longer have any contact with anyone at your firm.

You may be asked to document the comments.  This is a reasonable request since sometimes it is difficult to represent the facts without a written summary.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.