This can be a benefit to our careers, with services such as LinkedIn allowing one to post their resume, find a job, give and receive recommendations, and network with others in the same field, all without leaving their desk chair. But social media also has other implications, particularly given the relative anonymity one can have online. Unwelcome messages, online harassment, and even stalking have become an increasingly serious issue in our modern lives and can extend to the workplace.
Many employers have responded to these threats, not to mention the time-wasting elements of these sites that can decrease employee productivity, by banning social media sites altogether from the workplace. However, now that social networking is broadly available by mobile phone, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ever be truly disconnected. As a result, workplace harassment, including bullying, discrimination, cyber-stalking, and sexual harassment, have become an online issue as well. Where does the law stand on employer responsibilities to prevent and control this type of harassment from being inflicted upon their employees?
In one case, a disabled employee was harassed and bullied online through a blog set up by that person’s coworkers. When the blog was brought to the attention of the employer, they dismissed it, perhaps believing that it was not their place to regulate or dismissing the blog as “just a joke”. The court disagreed, and found that the employer was liable for the harassment just as they would have been had the bullying taken place either physically or verbally in the workplace itself. In another case, an employee began receiving sexually explicit text messages while on duty from their supervisor, who was immediately fired once the harassment was brought to the attention of the employers.
So what can employers do to prevent such actions occurring in their workplace? First, a clear social media policy should be put in place and regularly monitored and enforced to ensure that all employees know such actions are unacceptable and may lead to their suspension or the termination of their employment. Sensitivity training may also be conducted to ensure all employees are aware of the serious harmful effects such actions can have on their coworkers. Finally, any evidence of social media harassment should be taken seriously, and never dismissed out of hand simply because it “only” exists online.