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The rise of online networking and the use of social media has seen the growth in a new type of bullying. Cyber bullying is any form of bullying, harassment or victimisation online. It can spill from on-screen to off-screen and affect the face-to-face interactions between colleagues at work and away from work.
Cyber bullying can happen in a number of ways: inappropriate photographs may be posted; offensive or threatening comments might be made; or sensitive personal information could be revealed. This could be done accidentally or vindictively.
Cyber bullying can make people feel very distressed and alone.
Employers need to deal with cyber bullying, as it can be as damaging as any other kind of bullying. If left unchecked or handled badly, it can create serious problems for organisations, individuals and teams such as:
An employer should include guidance on the use of social media in bullying or disciplinary policies. They should clearly state what behaviour is unacceptable. This should include the use of offensive or intimidating language to other employees on social networking sites. A policy should be drawn up in consultation with employee or trade union representatives.
An employer should consider widening its bullying policy to prohibit cyber bullying of staff both inside and outside the workplace. A problem can be that social media networking sites and personal smart phones are used outside of working hours and away from work premises to bully staff.
Employers should take any complaint seriously and investigate it promptly. It may be possible to rectify matters informally as people may not be aware that their behaviour is unwelcome, and during an informal discussion an agreement may be reached that the behaviour will stop.
If an informal approach is not possible, the employer may decide that the matter is a disciplinary issue, which will need to be dealt with formally. It is important to follow a disciplinary procedure that is fair for both the person making the complaint, and the person being accused.
While it is not legally possible to make a claim solely about bullying to an Employment Tribunal, an employee may be able to bring a claim under laws covering discrimination.
An employer can check emails and social networking sites if an employee reports instances of cyber bullying. But, an employer must tell the employees being watched, and they must determine correctly that their reasons are justified under the data protection laws. To find out more go to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
ACAS have a wealth of documentation and guidance on a wide range of employment subjects.
Further information can be found using the link on the right hand side.