Social networking and bullying
- Cyber bullying: bullying, harassment and victimisation conducted via social networking channels - often using blogs or social networking sites to post photographs or offensive or threatening comments about colleagues.
- Social exclusion through use of online 'friendship circles'. There is often peer group pressure to become someone's 'friend' online. Employees may feel uncomfortable accepting invitations, particularly from senior members of staff.
- Employer responsibility for the conduct of their employees. Social media tools, such as emails and smart phones, mean that bullying between employees can more easily be conducted out of working hours and off work premises - is a manager still responsible?
- Bullying is usually defined by the experience of the person being bullied, but an employee may not always be aware they are being bullied. For example, an employee may not see comments posted about them on social networking sites or blogs.Other forms of cyber bullying, such as email threats or disclosure of personal information, are likely to be more obvious.
- Such fast evolving technology may offer more opportunities for bullying to take place and employers may be slow to set standards of behaviour or review their policies. It is not possible to make a direct claim to an employment tribunal about bullying, but employees may be able to bring claims under laws covering discrimination and bullying. In 2010/11 there were over 20,000 cases relating to sex, race, disability and age discrimination.
The way forward
- Update bullying and disciplinary policies to include guidance on the use of social media - for example, clearly state what behaviour is unacceptable. This might include the use of offensive or intimidating language directed at another employee on social networking sites.
- Consider widening your bullying policies to cover cyber bullying outside the workplace. This should be done in consultation with your employee representatives or trade unions where appropriate.
- Monitor electronic activity, such as emails and social networking sites, if employees report instances of cyber bullying. Remember, monitoring must be done with the full knowledge of those employees being monitored (see the Acas guide on 'Data protection').
Acas Senior Guidance Editor, Adrian Wakeling, talks about social media in the workplace.