Cyberbullying, or bullying online, is on the rise. The difficulty with this type of bullying is that it doesn’t take place in the open, and is often hidden on devices or platforms that employers cannot visually observe.

Cyberbullying can take many forms in the workplace. A recent case concerned a senior member of staff who had an image of a ‘witch’ placed as her computer screensaver by hostile colleagues. Managers may not always be able to spot this type of bullying, so it’s important they are taking proactive steps to limit the likelihood of bullying taking place.

Here’s how HR can help prevent cyberbullying happening in the workplace:

  • Educate staff – there is less understanding of what cyberbullying looks likes so it’s important to educate staff and raise awareness. HR can run staff training sessions on what cyberbullying is, how this will take place and how to spot signs that others are being bullied. This training should include all forms of technology that are used in the workplace and those outside work which could link to their employment, for example, WhatsApp groups between colleagues. Training sessions should be adaptable and use workplace examples to allow greater understanding of cyberbullying.
  • Implement a policy – current anti-harassment and bullying policies can be amended or extended to include provisions relating to cyberbullying or HR can create a separate policy. The policy can set out what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable online, how concerns will be addressed and the consequences of carrying out this type of bullying at work. Having a policy ensures HR can effectively take action at a later stage because there cannot be a claim that employees did not know what the rules were.
  • Encourage employees to raise concerns – HR can proactively signpost employees to raise cyberbullying concerns to HR or their line manager, either through the policy or in other ways such as by introducing a confidential reporting line. HR could embrace events such as Anti-Bullying Week or World Mental Health Day to demonstrate their commitment to tackling these issues which will, in turn, positively encourage employees to report any matters.
  • Monitor activity – once an employee has reported an allegation of cyberbullying, employers can monitor the alleged perpetrator’s online activity to investigate whether the alleged act took place or not. Monitoring creates a risk that the employee’s rights, especially the right to privacy, will be breached so they should be informed in advance that monitoring may take place and how this will be carried out. Monitoring should also be reasonable and proportionate, for example, employers can access emails from a specific time and date or simply review a list of email recipients.
  • Take disciplinary action – one of the most effective deterrents will be where HR show that they will take formal action against any perpetrators. This sends out the message to all members of staff that this behaviour is not acceptable. A full formal disciplinary procedure should be carried out under the normal process and any disciplinary sanctions should be reasonable in all the circumstances.