Whilst bullying within the workplace is often done verbally, the rise in the use of technology and the use of social media privately has led to an increase in cyber bullying. In fact, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has recently had cause to consider a case where a senior member of staff had an image of a ‘witch’ placed as her screensaver on her computer by hostile delegates. Cyber bullying is often hard to spot and manage so employers need to be on the lookout for any indications of this.
Cyber bullying will cover situations where employees are receiving an offensive email or text or being humiliated, ignored or gossiped about online. Employers will have a duty to take action where this is occurring from works equipment, such as a work mobile or computer, where it is happening during working time or even if it is outside the working time but can be classed as occurring during the course of employment. During the course of employment could be where cyber bullying occurs at an event closely linked to work or where the working environment has given reason for the conduct, e.g. where the bullying is carried out because of the working relationship of senior and junior.
Cyber bullying correlates strongly with harassment, whereby reason of a protected characteristic, an individual creates an intimidating, hostile or degrading environment for another. However, even if the bullying is not related to a protected characteristic it can lead to workplace issues such as grievances, loss of productivity, unauthorised absences, and a breakdown in relationships. In addition, if the victim raises an issue about the bullying and this is left unaddressed, this could lead to a breakdown in the trust and confidence the employee has in the employer and has the potential to result in a claim of constructive dismissal.
Employers need to show they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent cyber bullying from taking place. There are various methods, such as, having and implementing a bullying policy which covers cyber bullying; having a communications or devices policy which clearly states cyber bullying will not be tolerated and would be a disciplinary issue; training staff on what constitutes cyber bullying and what will not be tolerated, and taking steps to train staff on what is appropriate behaviour inside and outside of work during private communications. Employers should also carry out a monitoring process to ensure that cyber bullying is not taking place and, if it is, this can be caught early and dealt with.
For further clarification on cyber bullying in the workplace, please call our Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.