How to deal with cyberbullying at work

It’s Anti-Bullying Week this week and with more people working from home, the spotlight has fallen on cyberbullying. Here’s what you and your employer can do about it.

Stressed women at laptop


This week is Anti-Bullying Week. Bullying in the workplace is a huge issue, particularly in these highly pressurised times. But with many people working from home during the pandemic, there are increasing concerns about cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying, whether on a call, text message or via social media, tends to take the following forms: offensive emails, including offensive photos; online threats [for instance, being bombarded with work – more than others – and being told that you will lose your job if you don’t complete it]; posts and comments on social networking sites that are intended to embarrass or hurt the person they are about, whether personal or about their performance at work; and spreading malicious lies or gossip online.

Cyberbullying does not have to be intentional, for instance, constantly asking a colleague out on email, especially when told to stop, can constitute bullying and harassment; or posting private information about someone in a public forum. The victim may not even be aware they are being bullied initially.

How to deal with cyberbullying at work

So, how should you deal with it? As with all bullying, it is important to tell someone what you are going through.

If it is happening on social media you may be able to report it. Facebook, for instance, has a ‘reporting tool’ that allows users to report unsuitable comments and content. At work, you could try speaking calmly to the person responsible in the first instance, particularly if it might not be intentional. Experts advise against getting into a direct confrontation, however.

Keep a record of the bullying, for instance, take screen shots of emails or social media comments.

Talk to a colleague or your line manager or an HR representative – there should also be a company policy on the use of email and the internet at work.

Another legal route is to seek a non-molestation order which can stop the offender from contacting you outside of work.

You could also consider blocking the bully on social media or your phone. And you could speak to your IT department about blocking some email addresses or changing your email address if you are receiving a lot of unwanted messages. If the harassment and bullying is coming externally, your IT department should be able to help to identify the sender.

If the bullying involves death threats or threats of violence, you could report it to the police.

Legally, there is no fixed definition of cyberbullying because it can depend on the context and intent, for instance, deliberately excluding someone or making an ambiguous or unnecessary post or comment. Bullying itself is not a criminal offence, but harassment can be if it relates to protected characteristics under the Equality Act such as gender. Certain behaviours may also break defamation, data protection or privacy law and direct threats could lead to a criminal prosecution.

What can employers do?

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and should have an anti-bullying policy which should include cyberbullying. Even if they don’t have an anti-bullying policy they should take allegations seriously and investigate. If they don’t take appropriate action, an employee could take out a grievance or consider further legal action, particularly if the bullying and harassment is such that it may lead to the employee leaving their job.

Acas has a preventive guide for employers on tackling cyberbullying. It recommends:

    • That employers keep their social media policy up to date
    • That they make it easier and simpler to report online abuse and take action quickly and consistently in a way that is fair to all employees
    • That they find the right balance between tackling cyberbullying and protecting employee privacy.

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