We’re all familiar with cyber bullying in schools: kids use social media, sometimes with quite “adult” maliciousness, to settle social, romantic, economic and other scores with classmates, or faculty or staff and unrelated people. Now we are all seeing the same sort of negative behavior in the workplace.
While some people may view cyber bullying as harmless cyber banter, it is no child’s play. Cyber bullying can lead to some very serious consequences both personal and legal. Cyber bullying has escalated beyond the digital realm into real life causing significant harm to people, organizations and productivity. These cyber actions can have profound legal and personal impact on the organization.
Definition – Cyber Bullying in the Workplace
Cyber Bullying is defined as: “the act of harassing someone online by sending or posting mean messages, usually anonymously”.
Cyber bullying can take place at all levels of an organization: employees can cyber bully their colleagues, superiors, subordinates and people all around the organization.
It is essential for employers, and employees to understand the nature and ramifications, potential consequences of cyber bullying. Employers have been responsible for discriminatory or harassing acts that take place via the cyber domain within the workplace and sometimes beyond it. For example, personal employee Facebook pages that harass other employees are relevant to the work environment whether or not they are accessed at work.
Cyber bullying can take many forms, including:
- Email including offensive content
- Emails including explicit or implicit threats
- Posts, tweets and other forms of display and sharing on multiple social media platforms
- Orchestrated campaigns of rumors, innuendo and gossip using multiple chat forms, discussion groups, message and bulletin boards and other digital networking and communications applications
Cyber Bullying signify a merging of old habits – bullying – with new technology – cyber. This unique conjunction might obscure some of the duties and obligations that employers should be aware of, including:
- The obligation to maintain a non-discriminatory work place
- Legal Obligations
- Ethical & Moral Obligations
- Balancing Obligations
- Free Speech
Another thing that both employers and employees must keep in mind when considering cyber bullying is that bad behavior can be dealt with and eliminated. If not dealt with, cyber bullying can escalate into a full-blown physical conflict with all the attendant attributes of potential violence, use of verbal and physical threatening moves, and resultant extended trauma to both targets and associated colleagues, families, and others.
Cyber Bullying Checklist
The list below will help employers, employees and investigators ascertain whether they are facing a cyber bullying situation:
- Has the victim received mean, hateful, threating text messages, IMs, emails, Facebook messages and any other form of social media communication?
- Has someone posted mean or hurtful things about them online? Have others commented and passed on these things?
- Has someone forwarded their texts, IMs or emails to another person without their permission?
- Has someone used their pictures in a hateful, derogatory, or simply mean manner and posted it online for others to see?
- Has someone stolen their personal account passwords and started sending messages or posting and sharing things pretending to be the victim?
- Has someone started an offensive blog or FB page or bad Twitter Hashtag to demean the victim?
What Can Be Done about Cyber Bullying?
There is a quite a bit that can be done to preempt and mitigate cyber bullying situations. These steps include:
- Develop and implement clear and comprehensive anti-cyber bullying policies and procedures
- Make sure all managers and employees are aware of the current laws, regulations and policies pertaining to cyber bullying
- Provide employees with training and certification regarding company policies & philosophy
- Monitor cyber bullying within the organization constantly
- Encourage and promote a discrimination and harassment-free culture
- Consider making the employee’s performance along these lines part of their annual performance reviews
- Ensure that policies are enforced impartially and visibly, and that employees are aware of enforcement actions within the appropriate boundaries of employee privacy
There are important lessons and conclusions that both employees and employers would want to pay attention to:
- Employers must be constantly vigilant to ensure that they understand the virtual as well as physical office environments
- Employers must ensure that employees, at all levels, understand and adhere to the relevant legislation, as well as to the company’s cyber bullying policies
- Employees must understand that their actions both inside and outside the workplace (such as in Social Media) can impact their colleagues, themselves and the workplace
- Both employers and employees should take proactive steps to ensure compliance with the above
Case Study – Cyber Bullying
This is an actual case that took place in 2006, and involves a mix of cyber and physical bullying.
“County hammered with $820,000 verdict for not protecting disabled employee.
Disabled corrections officer harassed online and at work
Ralph Espinoza worked for the Orange County Probation Department as a deputy juvenile corrections officer. He was born without fingers on his right hand. He was able to perform most tasks but was self-conscious and often kept his hand in his pocket.
In August 2006, county corrections officers started blogging about work. An anonymous post to one of the blogs stated: “I will give anyone 100 bucks if you get a picture of the claw. Just take your hand out of your pocket already!” Further blog posts referred to the “one handed bandit” and the “rat claw,” coupled with negative comments concerning Espinoza’s job performance. A coworker alerted Espinoza, and he began monitoring the blog.
The harassment worsened, and Espinoza’s coworkers began ignoring him. Some put their hands in their right pocket and smirked as he passed. They refused to allow him to pass through locked security doors, preventing him from doing his job and compromising his security. He found the word “claw” written in the workplace “many, many times.” In addition, his car was keyed, and the “form of a claw” was smudged on the windshield.
Espinoza complained orally and in writing about his coworkers’ harassment. One of his coworkers also complained on his behalf. Espinoza’s supervisor observed the harassment and told him the complaints were being investigated, but he didn’t commence any investigation.
In April 2007, Espinoza’s doctor diagnosed him with high blood pressure, insomnia, and depression and stated that he couldn’t work because of the hostile work environment. The doctor put him on disability.
Espinoza sued the county. A jury found the county liable for harassment and failure to prevent harassment and awarded Espinoza over $820,000 in monetary damages for medical expenses, lost earnings, and mental distress. The county appealed, and in an unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the decision.”
Source: County hammered with $820,000 verdict for not protecting disabled employee.
TAL Global offers expert cyber bullying and workplace violence services for all organizations. Contact us to learn about our unique approach to cyber bullying threats in the workplace.