Identifying and Managing Cyberbullying During the COVID-19 Lockdown

April 30, 2020

 

Identifying and managing bullying and harassment in the workplace can be a tricky task for employers, even in normal every day circumstances.

With the UK currently in lockdown and the majority of employees now working remotely from home, Damian Phillips explores how employers will need to be extra vigilant and keep an eye out for any signs of cyberbullying amongst employees.

Cyberbullying usually involves abusive, offensive and/or threatening emails, frequent interruptions during virtual meetings, and posting unkind comments to or about other employees on social media. Cyberbullying can be harder for employers to spot as it is easier to conceal, especially if your entire workforce is currently working remotely. Failure to tackle employee cyberbullying can not only damage your business’s reputation, but can result in employment tribunal claims for constructive unfair dismissal or harassment under the Equality Act 2010 if the conduct relates to an employee’s protected characteristic. In order to amount to harassment, the conduct simply needs to be unwanted.  The fact that it might not have been intended to be offensive or that the harasser was ignorant of the victim’s protected characteristic is not an excuse.

It is important to note that you as an employer could be held vicariously liable for the actions of your employees, regardless of whether you knew of or approved of their behaviour, if they were acting in the course of their employment. You would have a defence to this claim if you could show that you took reasonable steps to prevent or resolve the situation.

In order to alleviate the risks and consequences of employee cyberbullying during the lockdown, employers should consider the following:

  • Train your managers online on how to identify and deal with employee cyberbullying. You should also deliver online training for your employees to inform them that bullying in any form, including cyberbullying, will not be tolerated and will lead to disciplinary action.

  • Ensure that your employees can access electronic copies of your grievance and disciplinary procedures, your anti-bullying and harassment policy, and your social media policy whilst they are working from home.

  • Update and review your policies and procedures to ensure that they address the current changes in working practices.

  • Deal with any employee cyberbullying complaints promptly and sensitively. Even during the COVID-19 crisis you can still conduct grievance and disciplinary proceedings remotely.

Should you wish to discuss any of the recommendations above, please do not hesitate to get in touch:

 

 

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