Consent In The Age Of Digitalised Workplaces

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Consent In The Age Of Digitalised Workplaces

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Consent in the age of digitalised workplaces

Digital communication, in the current scenario of Covid- 19, has certainly seen a surge. This is especially true when we apply it to workplaces. Workplaces have been digitalised, with people trying to simultaneously manage their different roles by being confined within the four walls of their house. This digitalisation has not only changed the mode and methods of work but has also drastically changed the nature of what we know of as workplace Sexual Harassment. 

The important point of recognition is that digitalisation of workplaces does not imply absence of sexual harassment. It definitely has and will change its form and thus consent forms the bedrock to determine instances of sexual harassment. It is vital to stress on consent because it signifies voluntary behaviour. It can be expressed both explicitly as well as implicitly.

Initially where harassment was more face to face, now harassment has acquired a new character through communication modes such as emails, whatsapp, zoom, skype or other digital mediums. Some instances of Sexual Harassment that are prevelant and emerging through digitalisations can be:

  • Sending emoticons with an intent of sexual advancement;
  • Repeatedly sending texts and emails which are not work related;
  • Dressing inappropriately for work related video calls;
  • Not following formal dress codes with the internt to make an employee uncomfortable;
  • Repeatedly engaing in terms of endearment such as “babe” “baby” and so on;
  • Behaviour with a motive to disrupt the work flow or degrade work quality.

Definition of workplace:

The POSH Act under Section 2 (o) covers work from home as workplace. It is important to understand that any geographical distance does not legitimise harassment over digital media.

Consent can be signified through multiple ways on digital platforms as well e.g. not responding to texts/ emails of sexual nature, communicating the displeasure verbally, avoiding talks motivated with sexual intent. Therefore, a shift towards digital workplaces requires us to incorporate the understanding of consent so as to prevent and prohibit sexual harassment on digital platforms.

It is extremely imperative to recognise that Sexual Harassment is highly subjective and thus any straitjacket definition to understand Sexual Harassment at digital platforms will be marred with limitations. However, one element which can make the task easy is consent. Consent is the determinate factor which can be used to classify welcomed and unwelcomed sexual advances.

The practical application of consent is sometimes different from its theoretical understanding. To understand its application in daily lives, especially at workplaces, read our easy reference article Consent- a complex concept?