Cyber harassment and cyberbullying is a disturbing trend in the digital age. In the workplace, it can be especially problematic. Targets of cyber harassment can suffer emotional distress, leading to loss of productivity, increased absences and turnover. And if left unchecked, digital misconduct can lead to claims of harassment, including sexual harassment.
What is cyber harassment
Cyber harassment includes online behavior that intimidates, threatens, stalks or humiliates another person. The harassment can occur on a public platform or be seen only by the target through email, texting or direct messaging.
Some examples: emailing or posting lewd or offensive comments or images of a coworker, posting rumors or lies and repeatedly asking a coworker out via text. Cyber harassment can also include trolling a coworker’s personal accounts.
Creating false social media accounts and posting detrimental information about an individual is another form of cyber harassment. Organizations should also be aware of doxxing, the practice of researching and publishing another person’s personal information, including address, phone and social security numbers with malicious intent.
Preventing cyber harassment in the workplace
The EEOC is beginning to bring cases of cyber harassment to the courts and the public’s attention. The agency recently announced a settlement of over $300,000 with an airline to resolve charges that an executive posted sexually explicit photos of a coworker on multiple websites, referencing her name and workplace. The EEOC said the airline failed to prevent and correct the behavior, even after the employee made numerous complaints.
In addition to having a written anti-harassment policy, crafting a social media policy and regularly training and educating employees on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior can help reduce the risk of cyber harassment, cyberbullying and other online misconduct.
Cyber harassment and cyberbullying are issues that HR professionals should keep on their radar and incorporate into the organization’s anti-harassment initiatives. This includes establishing a social media policy, addressing cyber harassment in the company’s code of conduct and ensuring all employees and managers receive regular, interactive training. Equally important is setting the right ethical tone from the top. Wherever it occurs, preventing all forms harassment and fostering a respectful, inclusive workplace culture is everyone’s responsibility.