Remote work may have helped you stay operational during the pandemic, but it brings its own challenges. Besides loneliness, Zoom fatigue, and space and privacy issues at home, cyberbullying is another problem affecting the health of remote workers.
According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), 40% of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, this issue transitions into the virtual workplace as well.
Like bullying in the physical workplace, cyberbullying can take many forms. It is not just limited to verbal abuse or unfair criticism. Rude or demeaning emails, excessive and repeated contact from management and jokes about an employee’s home or belongings during a virtual meeting are all instances of cyberbullying.
What does the law say about cyberbullying?
There is no specific federal or provincial legislation on cyberbullying (except for Nova Scotia’s Intimate Images and Cyber-Protection Act, 2017). But under Section 162.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada, publishing intimate images online without consent of the person involved is a punishable crime.
The Ontario Superior Court recently recognized the tort of internet harassment. To put it simply, this means people can sue in superior court for internet harassment done through any online means.
Alberta’s Protecting Victims of Non-Consensual Distribution of Intimate Images Act also allows people to sue for damages if their intimate pictures are shared on the internet without their consent.
It is important to note that decisions taken in past cases involving online bullying in the workplace extended the protection provided under workplace harassment laws to instances of cyberbullying.
What are the risks associated with online bullying?
Online bullying, too, creates a toxic work environment that takes a toll on the mental and physical health of the employee being bullied.
It can cause anxiety, depression, distraction, low morale and — in the long term — a high staff turnover. In severe cases, it can also lead to physical ailments like high BP, panic attacks, ulcers. Ultimately, all this affects productivity in the workplace.
Not only would dealing with legal claims related to cyberbullying be costly, it would also tarnish your brand image.
The employer’s duty to take reasonable precautions to ensure the well-being of staff extends to the remote workplace as well. It is important that you take steps to stem out cyberbullying from your remote workplace.
How can I check cyberbullying in the remote workplace?
We recommend that you:
Create a cyberbullying policy
Develop a comprehensive policy on cyberbullying. It should state what actions or behaviours constitute bullying. It should also describe what is not considered harassment. Make it clear that the policy applies to the remote workplace as well as use of social media channels. Your policy should also clarify the complaint reporting procedure and the disciplinary process.
Train and educate supervisors
Despite the speedy transition to remote work in the past year, working from home is still new for a lot of employees. Remote collaboration involves communication challenges and has a learning curve as well. Your supervisors and managers may benefit from training on online etiquette and cyberbullying.
Have an IT and email monitoring policy
This policy should set down how company-issued devices are to be used. It should also list what would be considered as inappropriate use of IT resources. The policy should establish your right to monitor communications over company devices and email. This will help you track and detect instances of cyberbullying in the workplace.
Draft a social media policy
Your social media policy should lay down the code of conduct your employees must observe while posting content online. Your policy should also set guidelines for employees responsible for sharing content on behalf of the company. Social media includes social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
It is also helpful to define what sort of content or remarks are unacceptable and the consequences of breaching the set code of conduct.
Set clear protocols on complaint procedures
Set down a clear reporting procedure for instances of cyberbullying. Make sure your cyberbullying policy is included in your employee handbook. You could also designate a point person in the workplace to whom employees could go to report incidents of harassment.
Make sure every complaint is dealt with sensitively and investigated thoroughly. Set down the discipline process. Make it clear that the disciplinary action may include dismissal, depending on the severity of the offence.
Do you need more information on creating a cyberbullying policy?
Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR and health and safety advice you need. See how we've helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.