The Risk of Cyberbullying

One would have thought that the increase in remote working during the pandemic may have led to a reduction in workplace bullying and harassment. However, according to law firm Fox & Partners, cases heard at UK employment tribunals that include elements of cyberbullying are on the increase.

The alleged bullying has included behaviours such as:

  • Excluding colleagues from virtual meetings
  • Rude comments or remarks being made on videocalls
  • Colleagues exchanging gossipy messages about others on social media/messaging apps

More widely, even forms of ‘micro-management’ may be perceived by employees as bullying. Remote workers may be as productive at home as they are in the office, but they may be subjected to greater levels of supervision and monitoring, leading to a sense of suspicion and hostility.

Bias may lead to employers viewing some employees less favourably than others, for example, assuming that a married woman may not be as focused on the job when working at home in case domestic responsibilities become a distraction.

Whilst employers cannot be sued directly for bullying, they can be held liable for harassment suffered by employees at work. This is the case where someone is the subject of unwanted conduct relating to a relevant protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (i.e. age; sex; disability; sexual orientation; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; or, religion or race), and that conduct has the purpose or effect to violate that person’s dignity and to create an ‘intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’.

If cyberbullying has contributed to this, it can often be easy to prove, as digital communications typically leave a trail of evidence.

Irrespective if the behaviour constitutes bullying or harassment, firms should take appropriate action to prevent negative organisational cultures developing in the workplace whether staff work in the office or remotely. Remember, organisational culture continues to be a priority for the FCA.

Firms should therefore ensure that their Bullying and Harassment policies are up-to-date and suitable for the post-pandemic world. Firms may consider training to help staff understand what constitutes cyberbullying.

Managers should also check-in regularly with remote workers to ensure that they are included as fully as possible and do not feel isolated from the rest of their teams.

A firm with a healthy organisational culture will strive to ensure a positive working environment for its employees whether they are based in the office or at home. This not only helps protect the firm from legal action but may also boost staff retention and productivity.

If you require support with your HR policies, please visit the IHRS website or contact the team on HRhelp@ihrsolutions.co.uk.

About the author

Nathan is a member of the senior management team at RWA and manages the company’s e-learning, content and professional standards department. He joined RWA as a content writer in 2016, on successfully completing his PhD. Nathan previously worked in the private, public and charitable sectors and has a broad range of experience, including research and analysis, project delivery, corporate governance, and team leadership.

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