Last week was anti bullying week and it serves as a reminder for employers to consider the growing concern of cyber-bullying in the workplace.
Cyber-bullying is defined as “the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature” and can be treated much the same as traditional workplace bullying or harassment, but involves the use of electronic devices and online communications.
- Nasty emails, texts or social media posts directed at an employee
- Electronic communications that involve jokes about an individual’s ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or any other subject that would make a person uneasy
- A bombardment of emails from a manager just before an employee goes on annual leave that could have been addressed much sooner
Malicious behaviour online can be hard for employers to detect as it is often carried out subtly. For example, a malicious post made on social media may go unnoticed from its victim as they do not actively use these kind of sites, however, the rest of their colleagues are exposed to this post and their behaviour towards the victim changes. Although the victim has not seen this post he/she senses a change of atmosphere in the workplace and cannot work out why.
Further, online bullying can leave employees thinking “I am an adult, I need to have thicker skin and get on with my job.” This can leave individuals feeling secluded, which will likely see side effects on their mental health, performance and engagement with the organisation as a whole. In turn, the workplace will experience a high turnover of staff, which will see a financial impact through having to recruit and train new employees. As an employer you are exposing the business to legal action should you fail to act on this form of behaviour in the workplace.
What should employers do to prevent cyber-bullying in the work environment?
- Ensure all employees are aware that bullying in the workplace will not be tolerated
- Have well written policies regarding bullying and unacceptable use of technology
- Have all managers properly trained on how to deal with bullying in the workplace
- Remind employees to stop and think before sending an email that is likely to get a reaction from the person on the receiving end
- Promote communication between employees as opposed to squabbling over emails. Face to face chats will cut out the emotional uncertainty of an email
Clarification is crucial in the working environment as there if often uncertainty over what is deemed as unacceptable behaviour online. Often, employees believe that if it is on their private social media page then they should be able to freely express, entirely unaware of the consequences of making malicious comments about their colleagues.
Employers can monitor their employee’s emails and social media sites if another employee reports cyber-bullying. However, it is important that employers remember that those they wish to monitor must be informed beforehand and the reasons behind the monitoring are justified under data protection law.
How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?
Employers can take advantage of our online courses on anti-bullying and harrassment in the workplace to ensure they are complying with their legal obligations – click on the link below for more information.
Should you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662.
Please note, the information in this article is for guidance purposes only and it is therefore advised that employers seek legal advice before embarking on any enforcement action.