Cyberbullying at Work – A Guide to Dealing with Online Harassment

Cyberbullying has long been more closely associated with the intentional bullying of children online by their peers. Adults in the workplace however, are not immune to cyberbullying at work, which can manifest itself in many different forms. There are steps you can take, and support available if you have become a victim of cyberbullying at work.

Examples of Cyberbullying 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-Mails

Sending an offensive e-mail to a colleague is a form of bullying. It’s important to bear in mind that even if it’s supposed to be a joke, the content might offend. This includes any offensive photos which are sent via email. Continuing to send such messages having been asked to stop is also wrong.

2. E-mail Threats

This can include inoffensive messages in terms of content. However, the implied meaning behind the message can be a form of bullying. An example of this might be where a manager is loading you with more work than you can handle. They may email and hint that If you don’t complete the work you may lose your job. If others are also not being treated the same way, this is more evidence of poor behaviour.

3. Posting Comments on Social Media Sites

A person may not suffer any direct cyberbullying at work. Instead the bullies may be leaving nasty comments about them on social media sites. 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, posting online that a colleague is divorcing because their husband cheated on them may be true, but is bullying. This is because it is designed to, or has the effect of embarrassing them.

4. Spreading Lies and Gossip

Social networks are the most common ways in which people become victims of cyberbullying. For example – “Mary and Joe left the staff party together last night. Isn’t she married?” Would be cyberbullying at work, as it is clearly meant to spread gossip that Mary has been unfaithful (which is also likely to be untrue).

Cyberbullying can happen via any electronic means including text messages, phone calls and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Intentional or Not?

Cyberbullying or ‘e-bullying’ can also happen when the person may not even intend to harm you. This type of bullying is very worrying. The bully is unlikely to stop their behaviour on their own, as they don’t know they are doing anything wrong.

The two main types of unintentional cyber-bullying are:

1. Persistent Admirer

You may have an admirer at work who would like to have a closer friendship or relationship with you. They’ll sometimes use e-mail or social media to ‘test the waters’ as the fear of rejection is often lessened.

However, people have been rightfully prosecuted for Sexual Harassment in cases of persistent electronic communication. This type of harassment has led to cases of stalking outside work. It is important to stop the behaviour at an early stage.

2. Invasion of Privacy

This type of bullying involves sharing someone’s private data online. It’s often called Doxing. This can be publicly posting any personal details, which you would not normally want to share. Giving your phone number privately to one other person on your team will not fall under the umbrella term bullying. However, posting your phone number or address on a site which can be viewed by all your colleagues will.

How to Deal with Cyberbullying at Work

Whether it’s e-bullying or face-to-face, there are laws surrounding both harassment and bullying in the UK. You can take legal action if you feel you have become the victim of a cyberbully. There are some other steps to take in the workplace before you need to do this.

Speak to the Person

Firstly, you should try to resolve the problem with the person directly if you know their identity. In some cases, what you thought was offensive might be genuine error. In the case of invasion of privacy, it is often quite easy to ‘nip this in the bud’. Often the other party will be extremely apologetic, not realising the problem they created, or how they made you feel.

Speak to a Manager

If bullying persists, you should go and speak to a manager or Union Representative. Discuss the situation with them and ask for support. Often they will be able to speak to the bully about their behaviour and tell them to stop. Most companies will have strict policies on the use of e-mail and the internet at work. 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. For example o ask someone on a date.
  • To pass on “viral” videos or links to non-work related websitess
  • 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. It will also often be on a company intranet.

Consider a Non-Molestation Order

If the bullying does not stop after management intervention, and messages are still being sent, this may be considered harassment. You might be able to obtain a non-molestation order which makes it an offence for them to contact you. A court cannot prevent you seeing a colleague at work. However, they can order that they don’t 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.

Cyberbullying is different to conventional bullying. You are protected by the law at work in just the same way as conventional bullying. If someone outside of work is sending you unwelcome messages at work, the IT department should be able to stop this. They can 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.

Further Reading

9 thoughts on “Cyberbullying at Work – A Guide to Dealing with Online Harassment

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  6. AL says:

    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.

  7. Karoline says:

    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?

  8. lorra says:

    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

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