Tuesday, 15 June 2021

How to Manage Cyberbullying in the Workplace

Written by Erina Higgins

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Introduction

Workplace bullying and harassment are the subject of many laws and justice campaigns. However, the way in which this happens is changing. As businesses and employees increase their reliance on technology to get things done, cyberbullying has also increased. The Australian Institute found that 39% of adult internet users reported experiencing one or more forms of online harassment. That’s a large portion of the population considering 90% of Australian adults access the internet. A study by the eSafety Commissioner also found that one in seven Australian adults had been the target of online hate. Cyberbullying is a big issue for the adult population and can have devastating effects on mental health, as well as employee performance. In this article we’ll explain what cyberbullying is, how it’s regulated, and what employers can do to create a safe workplace.

What is cyberbullying?

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) defines workplace bullying as occurring where a person or group repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or group at work and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. Cyberbullying occurs where this bullying takes place online. Though there is no legislative definition, the new Online Safety Bill (OSB) 2021 provides further clarity. The OSB defines cyber abuse material targeted at an adult as:

  • Material provided on either social media, an electronic service, or a designated internet service; and
  • An ordinary reasonable person would conclude that material was intended to have an effect of causing serious harm; and
  • An ordinary reasonable person in the position of the adult would regard the material as being menacing, harassing, or offensive

Serious harm means serious physical harm or serious harm to a person’s mental health, whether temporary or permanent. 

In the workplace, this may be cyberbullying in the form of texts, emails, images and also videos. These materials then have the effect of humiliating, intimidating, excluding or spreading gossip about an individual.

For more information, you can read our guide on ‘How to identify workplace bullying’

How is cyberbullying regulated?

The Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act 2015 (Cth) has regulated cyberbullying against children. The Online Safety Bill 2021 proposes to extend this. The OSB aims to enhance the online safety of Australians in their capacity to use social media services and electronic services in a safe manner. The bill provides the eSafety commissioner with powers to remove content from online platforms. It covers a wide range of issues, including violent material, intimate image-based abuse, and importantly cyber-abuse material targeted at both children and adults. 

If an adult is the target of cyber abuse they should make a complaint to the platform hosting that material to have it taken down. If the platform does not remove the material in 48 hours the OSB enlivens. Individuals can then complain to the eSafety Commissioner to issue a removal notice.  

Unfortunately, there is no mention of cyberbullying, or cyber abuse, in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). However, employers can still put measures in place to prevent the risk of cyberbullying in the workplace.

For more information, you can read our guide on ‘How to respond to workplace bullying and harassment’

What can employers do?

Employers should ensure that their workplace is safe for all employees, including the online workplace. Employers can do this by implementing certain provisions and practices to prevent cyberbullying.

1. Have the right policies in place

A harassment and bullying policy promotes a safe workplace. A definition of bullying and harassment that contains cyberbullying would be an appropriate way to prevent cyber abuse. It can also set out a process for employees to make complaints. 

A Social Media Policy sets expectations as to social media use both inside and outside of work hours. Though this policy mainly regulates social media use which reflects poorly on the business, it also prevents cyberbullying by restricting social media use during work hours. 

2. Keep communication professional

Having a communication platform dedicated solely to workplace communication is an important part of regulating safe and appropriate employee interactions. Further, ensuring that employees communicate online through their work email or a platform such as Microsoft Teams or Slack will:

  • Maintain a professional level of communication
  • Keep all employee interactions in a safe place
  • Establish a paper trail if anything goes wrong (e.g. if an an employee makes a complaint)
  • Discourage employees from discussing work matters within their personal accounts

Conclusion

In the digital age, cyberbullying can pervade all parts of life, including the workplace. Though there is some legislative protection against cyber abuse, it is important for employers to ensure a safe workplace for all. This requires being aware of online risks and implementing practices and policies that prevent cyberbullying.

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