Friday, June 29, 2012


Cyberbullying in the workplace

"While headlines over the past year have focused on cyberbullying in schools, cyberbullying has found its way into the workplace, as well. Cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, is defined as "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices."
According to Elyze McDonald Iriarte, attorney at Carlsmith Ball LLP, "Workplaces are not immune to cyberbullying. In this day and age, the ease and informality of electronic communications lead people to react to situations without thinking of the consequences first."
Efforts to spread awareness of cyberbullying prevention in local schools has taken place over the past year, but training specific to the workplace has happened on rare occurrence and usually only takes place in larger companies via computer-based exercises. Though reports vary, the numbers range from 20% to 37% of workers who report to being the victim of bullying in the United States in the workplace.
Cyberbullying generally falls under the umbrella of workplace harassment as the content is often the same though means of delivery differs. Some examples of workplace bullying include the following:
  • Offensive email – sending offensive email to a colleague even if intended as a joke and continuing to send even if asked to stop.
  • Email threats – direct threats as well as implied messages behind emails in which the recipient feels threatened.
  • Blogs and comments on social networking sites which are offensive or malicious in nature that can be viewed by others.
  • Sharing private data online about another person such as a phone number or address without permission.
Motives surrounding cyberbullying, like traditional bullying, vary, but include romantic interests, a business conflict of interest or just plain personal dislike. Cyberbullying in some instances takes the form of cyberstalking, and, like its traditional counterpart can stem from harmless interactions. For example, an admirer at work may use email to lessen the blow of a possible rejection, but then continue email communications even when asked to stop in hopes that the recipient eventually acquiesces.
Cyberbullying presents a considerable amount of reputational risk to employers in the form of negative publicity and can have significant consequences if not mitigated. According to Iriarte, one of the first measures of prevention is developing and circulating policies surrounding cyberbullying in the workplace. "An employer should advise employees on the steps to be taken to report cyberbullying, in the same way that employees are advised on how to report sexual harassment or other misconduct at the workplace."
While employers often outline content prohibited on workplace emails, it may also be a wise idea to outline policies for personal emails exchanged on workplace computers. "In order to avoid invasion of privacy issues, employers should consider instituting spyware to monitor email usage, but should inform employees that all communications may be monitored, including personal email done on work computers," says Iriarte. According to Iriarte, even if cyberbullying occurs between employees using personal email addresses, if it relates to work issues or communicated on work computers, it could still present a liability to employers, and policies like this, help to keep all parties aware of their responsibilities.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, the effects of cyberbullying on an individual can become life threatening if not handled properly. Many targets of cyberbullying report feeling depressed, sad, angry, and frustrated. News headlines in recent months have discussed teens committing suicide as a result of their inability to cope with cyberbullies, and one can assume that workplace cyberbullying can cause the same consequences if not addressed properly."

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