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Cyber Bullying at Work

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 21 Nov 2020 | comments*Discuss
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Cyber bullying has long been more closely associated with the intentional bullying of children online by their peers and is particularly associated with teenagers. Adults in the workplace however, are not immune to cyber bullying, which can manifest itself in many different forms. Nobody is immune to cyber bullying, but there are steps you can take and support available if you feel you have become a victim of cyber bullying at Work.

A range of different examples of bullying at work using electronic means would include:

  1. Offensive email
  2. Email threats
  3. Posts and comments on social networking sites
  4. Spreading lies and malicious gossip via messaging/chat

1. Offensive e-mail

Sending an offensive e-mail to a colleague (even if it's supposed to be a joke,) the content of which might offend the receiver. This includes any offensive photographs which are attached to an email, and continuing to send similar messages having been asked to stop.

2. E-mail threats

This can include relatively inoffensive messages in terms of content, but the implied meaning behind the message can constitute a form of bullying. An example of this might be where a superior is bombarding you with far more work than you can handle, saying that this is part of your job (i.e. If you don't complete the work you may lose your job) whilst other members of the team are not being treated in the same way.

3. Posting blogs and comments on social networking sites

Often a person may not experience any direct form of cyber bullying, but instead the bullies are leaving nasty or offensive comments about them on blogs and social networking sites which can be viewed by others. The comments may be about the person's performance at work, or more commonly can be personal. Comments do not have to be untrue - for example publishing online that a colleague is divorcing because their husband cheated on them may be true, but could constitute bullying as it is designed, or has the effect of embarrassing the subject.

4. Spreading lies and malicious gossip

Social networking sites and blogs are usually the most common ways in which people become victims of cyber bullying in this form. For example - "Mary and Joe left the staff party together last night. Isn't she married?" Would constitute this form of cyber bullying, as it is clearly designed to spread gossip that Mary has been unfaithful (which is also likely to be untrue).

Cyber bullying can occur via any electronic means including text messages, phone calls and social media (such as Facebook and Twitter).

Intentional or Not?

Cyber bullying harassment - electronic cyber bullying, or 'e-bullying' as it is often referred to, can also occur when the person may not even intend to harm you. This type of bullying is particularly concerning, as the bully is unlikely to stop their behaviour on their own, as they do not know that they are doing anything wrong.

The two main types of non-intentional cyber-bullying are:

1. Persistence of an admirer

You may experience an admirer at work who would like to establish a closer friendship or relationship with you. Admirers will sometimes use e-mail or social media to 'test the waters' first as the fear of rejection is often lessened if an approach is made that way. However, people have been rightfully prosecuted for Sexual Harassment where persistent electronic communication (texts/emails etc) follows, especially if they have been rejected and told to stop. This type of cyber-bullying has even led to cases of stalking outside work and so is particularly important to prevent at an early stage.

2. Invasion of privacy

This type of bullying involves sharing someone's private data online. This can be posting any personal details which can be viewed by the general public, or other colleagues at work, which you would not normally want to share. Clearly giving your phone number privately to one other colleague on your team will not fall under the umbrella term bullying, but for example posting your personal telephone number or home address on a site which can be viewed by all your colleagues across the whole business (including other national offices) will do.

How to Deal with Cyber Bullying at Work

Whether it's e-bullying or face-to-face, there are laws surrounding both harassment and bullying in the UK, and you can take legal action if you feel you have become the victim of a cyber bully.

Speak the to person - Firstly, you should try to resolve the problem with the person directly if you know their identity. In some cases, it might be true that what you thought was offensive was not perceived as such by the sender and there has been some misunderstanding. In the case of invasion of privacy, it is often quite easy to 'nip this in the bud', and often your cyber bully will be extremely apologetic, not realising the problem they created, or how they made you feel.

Speak to a manager - If the bullying persists, you should go and speak to a manager (or Union Representative if you have one) to discuss the situation and to obtain support. Often they will be able to speak to the bully about their behaviour and tell them to stop. Fortunately, most companies will have strict policies on the use of e-mail and the internet at work and a person can lawfully be dismissed if the company policy is ignored or abused.

Inappropriate use of company email will often include:

  • Sending any personal emails (e.g. To ask someone on a date)
  • To pass on "viral" videos or links to non-work related websites
  • To mass email a joke (particularly one that is sexist, racist or homophobic).
  • Your company IT policy is available from your HR Department or manager, and will also often be on a company intranet.

Consider a Non-Molestation Order - If the bullying still does not stop at the request of your manager, and the emails/text messages are regularly being sent despite you asking the other person to stop, this may be considered harassment. If so, you might be able to obtain a non-molestation order which makes it an offence for the offending party to contact you. Obviously a court cannot prevent you seeing a colleague at work, but they can order that the offending party does not contact you out of work via email, telephone, text message or social media.

Other simple ways to prevent a colleague contacting you out of work include:

  1. Blocking their number on your phone
  2. Blocking them on your social networking site

Spam mail

Unfortunately there is little you can do about offensive spam or junk mail. We all receive this type of mail from time to time. Fortunately, this is rarely personal and we should all learn to simply ignore and delete it.

There are some ways that you can limit the amount of spam mail you receive however:

Activate a junk filter on your email

These automatically search for junk email and put this into a separate place to your inbox which you do not then need to read. These will search for junk mail by scanning for certain words in the subject.

Speak to your work's IT department

Speak to your IT department about blocking some email addresses, or changing your email address to reduce the amount of spam you receive.

Do not use your work email

Do not use a work email to register for anything online (such as restaurant newsletters or vouchers).

Cyber bullying is no less unpleasant than conventional bullying. Always remember that you are protected by the law in just the same way as conventional bullying. As for external cyber bullies who are operating outside your workplace, if they are emailing your work email, your work IT department should be able to stop this activity and can also take steps to identify the perpetrators. Remember - if you are being bullied, do not suffer in silence. Tell someone who will be able to help you stand up to the bullies. Nobody should make you feel uncomfortable at your place of work.

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Asley - 23-Sep-20 @ 7:45 AM
Abigail, you have raised an important topic in this blog and say a number of very helpful things.However there are two points which need correction. 1.You say in your blog: "Whether it's e-bullying or face-to-face, there are laws surrounding both harassment and bullying in the UK, and you can take legal action if you feel you have become the victim of a cyber bully" There are laws about harassment e.g. 2010 Equality Act.However there are NO laws about bullying, Bullying has no legal definition in the UK. 2.When you talk about "How to Deal with Cyber Bullying at Work" the first action you suggest is "speak to the person".All the research on workplace bullying suggest that this is very unwise, but if you insist on doing it you should always have another person with you.Speaking to the perpetrator normally escalates the problem,it does not solve it.
AL - 10-Nov-16 @ 4:59 PM
What if the message is outside of work, but is as a result of people gossiping at work? And the message is offensive, upsetting and not true? And I have spoken to management, and they say they cannot do anything?
Karoline - 15-Apr-16 @ 6:21 PM
@lorra. You should talk to your manager about it anyway. Ask for their advice as you believe the comments are about you.
SafeWorkers - 9-Feb-15 @ 2:06 PM
Hi, was just wondering, if I was having a problem with work colleges posting vindictive comments about me on social media, but they didn't name me, would my manager still be able to deal with the perpetrators accordingly if there was enough evidence to prove they were talking about me maliciously?! Thank you
lorra - 4-Feb-15 @ 11:54 PM
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