Q: At my company, we are all working remotely. We have a weekly Zoom call on Friday mornings to share updates and client information. During this Zoom call, a colleague, who was just hired late in 2021 sends me messages through the chat feature. At first, they were just quick hellos and questions about my coffee, my home office, etc. Now he is getting weirder. Now there are questions about my dating life, my personal life and where I live. The questions are making me feel uncomfortable and now I dread these weekly calls. What should I do? I have never met this person face-to-face.
A: Thanks for reaching out. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and comfortable workplace for their employees. Inappropriate behavior can occur live, in person or through technology platforms like social media or Zoom.
As a first step, I would signal to him that you find his behavior is unacceptable. Consider replying to his chat comment with a warning like “Stop! You are making me feel uncomfortable.” If his behavior continues, then you should talk to your supervisor. You can go to your supervisor as a first step, but it is sometimes helpful to be crystal clear with a colleague that this behavior is crossing the line. Hopefully he stops after you send your chat warning. If possible, take a screen shot or picture of his comments. If you ever need a copy of these comments, you will have them to share with others.
Your employer may have an internal harassment policy, which discusses the steps in addressing inappropriate behavior. That policy might be helpful to review.
There are laws which prohibit harassment. You should not have to tolerate this kind of behavior. If your supervisor does not take action, you should contact our HR department. Your HR department should listen to your concern and respond in a manner with the goal of keeping your safe and feeling comfortable in your work environment. Your work environment includes these Zoom calls. For more information about harassment laws in the workplace, visit https://www.mass.gov/service-details/about-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace. You can also contact the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination to discuss your concerns or file a complaint.
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.