Cyberbullying in the Workplace

With the use of social media on the rise, it is necessary for employers to be proactive in relation to cyberbullying in the workplace. There is numerous stories which have been reported to the media in relation to cyberbullying recently. Therefore, employers need to keep up with the pace that technology and social medias are developing and take preventative and remedial action.

The following is a 10-point plan to prevent and deal with cyberbullying in the workplace.

  1. Employers and managers should promote a work culture where all bullying is not tolerated. They may do this by promoting team/colleague bonding activities.
  2. The company/firm should establish a clear written and well communicated policy regarding cyberbullying and the acceptable use of technology. This policy should be emailed or posted to each employee and should also be stuck up in the workplace where it can be seen. This is to ensure that each employees are aware of the policy of the company and the approach the company will take to the misuse of social media both in and outside the workplace. The company should treat social-media misconduct in the same way as any other form of misconduct. Employees being aware of this policy can avoid any breaches of this policy. Employers may also require employees to sign this policy to show understanding.
  3. Employers may provide training for staff and management in how to deal with cyberbullying in the workplace. If employees and management have the necessary training, potential bullying may cease, or any bullying may be resolved before it becomes very serious. The right training will also ensure that the bullying is dealt with in the correct way. Employees many also insist on refresher courses on bullying in the workplace once a year to ensure new employees are also receiving the correct training. The employer may make this training may become compulsory and form part of the employee’s contract when joining the company.
  4. It is necessary to remind staff that whatever they post on the internet is out of their control and is potentially there forever. Employers should not disregard an employee’s conduct just because it happened outside the workplace. Employers are vicariously liable for acts by their employees which occur in the course of their employment. Even though what the employee is saying on social media may be outside the workplace, it may still be in breach of the company’s policy. It is also necessary to remind employees that before they send email, to review it and consider the reaction of the receiver. It may just take a few moments of reflection to avoid conflict. It is also important to remind employees and management that if problems do occur to not continue disagreement over email. A face-to-face conversation may remove the emotional ambiguity of the email.
  5. The employer may monitor if there are a lot of people leaving a certain department. This may be caused due to cyberbullying and/or harassment.
  6. If, however, an employee reports instances of cyberbullying, remedial action may be taken. An employer may check emails and social media sites. They may also monitor these sites, but only with the full knowledge of the employees being watched.
  7. The employer cannot turn a blind eye to a report of cyberbullying. The employer must show that bullies are not rewarded, but the opposite. Understandably, many employers find it difficult to accept that they could be liable for statements made by their employees outside of work and on personal computers/devices. However, if the conduct is sufficiently connected with the employment relationship, it is likely that, based on current common law principles, the courts in Ireland will have no difficulty in finding the employer vicariously liable. In order to defend these claims, it is imperative that an employer can show that it has procedures in place to prevent, detect and address cyber-bullying.
  8. If the employee who is in question of cyber bullying proves guilty, then the employer must discipline them justly. The fair procedures must be carried out and the sanction implied is proportionate. Sometimes a dismissal may be found unfair on the grounds of the sanction being disproportionate, the comments or actions taken by the cyberbully will still deserve disciplinary action.
  9. As with all disciplinary processes, it is important to give the correct label to the employee’s wrongdoing, and the reason for their dismissal (for example, do not rely on damage to the company’s reputation unless this has occurred or is likely); otherwise, the employer may run the risk that the dismissal will be unfair.
  10. After the issue has been dealt with and corrective action has been taken, it may be necessary for the employee to revise the cyberbullying policy and conduct a refresher course for all employees.
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