In today’s technology-driven world, we’ve moved beyond water-cooler gossip. With email and social media, we can instantly share information with fellow employees. This also opens a world of possibilities for workplace bullying. Using Facebook messenger, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, employees can send offensive messages in seconds. While many employees may just dismiss their harassment as a joke, we know there is a fine line between the point where joking ends, and harassment begins.
Types of Social Media Harassment
There are several forms of social media harassment. At work, here are some of the most common offenders:
- Virtual harassment, such as friending a person on Facebook and sending offensive comments vis messenger.
- Sending lewd Snapchats.
- Cyberstalking, which is the act of obsessively following someone on their social media networks and blogs.
Employees may also erroneously believe that some forms of offensive electronic communications do not constitute workplace harassment (for example, if they send messages from their personal smartphone). It doesn’t matter whether the device is personal or if the harassment isn’t on company time – employers still have a responsibility to make sure that their workplaces are free of discrimination and intimidation.
Examples of Social Media Harassment
These legal cases highlight the importance of a social media and workplace harassment policy:
- In 2012, an employer was ordered to pay $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding sexual harassment. The case began when a store manager sent sexual text messages to one of his employees.
- The courts awarded another employee $1.6 million because they were continually harassed online outside of the workplace for their disability. The employee in question reported the harassment to management, but they didn’t take action. Since management was aware of the harassment and didn’t stop it, they were liable for the damages.
As you can see, it’s essential for employers to create comprehensive social media use policies to protect both their employees and the well-being of their companies.
From a legal standpoint, electronic harassment is a form of employment discrimination that may be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, or the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. Harassment is defined as any conduct that is based on sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, or race. Employers may be liable if they are complicit in the origin or continuation of this unwelcome conduct.
Creating a Workplace Social Media Policy
Employers must take steps to articulate clear social media use policies. These policies should address electronic communication in all its forms and ensure that employees understand the scope of their responsibilities. It’s not OK for employees to harass one another under any circumstances. Employees must also understand that there is no expectation of privacy when it comes to communication between two employees.
Consider adding an addendum to your current harassment policy that includes all forms of electronic communications. Remind your employees that all forms of harassment are unlawful, and might result in termination. Consider conducting an electronic harassment prevention workshop to ensure all of your employees are on the same page.
Reporting Social Media Harassment
Above all, employees should feel comfortable reporting all forms of harassment. Make it clear to your employees that there will be no retaliation for reporting electronic harassment, either as a bystander or a victim.
Having a clear policy will go a long way in preventing social media harassment in the workplace. Despite this, employers should still be prepared to discipline harassers in a timely fashion, especially if they don’t want to be liable for damages.