Several months ago, a new employee in my wife’s workplace downloaded a free Amazon.com app called Burn Book. After that, more and more of her coworkers downloaded the app and joined a Burn Book twitter account. They started posting nasty rants about anyone not in their clique. They spend every morning giggling together about what they’ve put online for everyone to read.
My wife wasn’t part of their group and they went after her with malicious stories. My wife wound up quitting after she couldn’t take it anymore. She hasn’t been able to find a new job that pays as much and feels bad about the good people she left behind when she quit. Before she left, she asked her company’s HR person what to do and was told that supervisors could always tell chatting employees to get back to work, but that employees have protection when they post things on their own time to each other and then talk about them the next day. Isn’t there anything the employees who don’t like what’s going on can do?
Yours is the second call I’ve had this month reporting workplace cyberbullying. For those who haven’t experienced this, cyberbullies publically browbeat intimidate, humiliate or sabotage coworkers to gain or take away power or reputation. According to Amazon.com, Burnbook is a free app that “conveniently” connects those who download it with a larger community in which they can anonymously post pictures and texts, making it a perfect tool for cyberbullies.
Your HR professional correctly states that the National Labor Relations Act protects the rights of employees who enter into concerted activity which includes talking with coworkers about working conditions. Despite this, there is much that employers, HR professionals and employees who don’t want be part of or allow workplace meanness can do.
Employers have a legal liability under occupational health and safety laws to ensure the health and safety of employees. Cyberbullying can prove deadly, as it did when a thirty-one year old firefighter committed suicide after being targeted by insults hurled at her on a local web forum frequented by her coworkers.
Employers can develop a bullying and a cyberbullying policy or incorporate cyberbullying into their harassment policies and outline disciplinary consequences for employees who breach the policy.
Employers can develop social media and social networking policies that comply with the National Labor Relations Act yet set standards for online behavior and outline consequences for breaking these policies. They can ensure that the policy makes clear that the “workplace” isn’t just the physical office and include clear examples of unacceptable behavior. Two of my favorite social media policies are CocaCola’s and Ford’s. To give teeth to their policies, employers can let employees know they reserve the right to monitor communications placed using company servers and company-issued devices.
Company leaders can demonstrate a strong, respectful “tone from the top” on issues of workplace bullying. They can outline every manager’s role and responsibility for preventing and reporting workplace bullying. They can ask their HR team to be proactive in addressing workplace bullying.
Senior managers and HR professionals can provide support to employees who have experienced cyberbullying. They can outline a clear procedure for reporting, investigating and resolving workplace bullying complaints. They can ask IT to monitor potential cyberbullying through random or targeted searches if company services and devices. When they find direct evidence of cyberbullying, in the form of threats; false allegations or grossly offensive or denigrating comments, they can take action.
Employees can tell rude individuals, “I don’t like this” when they hear gossip following malicious posts. They can exit workplace conversations that turn ugly. Or they can organize. Three Google employees, disturbed when online discussions became increasingly abusive and hostile, asked that Google management act to stop inflammatory comments, personal attacks and violent threats from online vigilantes. Management responded and a Google spokeswoman agreed that when management found code of conduct violations, it would take action, including termination of employment.
Hopefully, your wife and those she left behind can prevail. They have right on their side.
© 2019, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and www.workplacecoachblog.com. Curry is now a Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting at Avitus Group. Send your questions to her at Lcurry@avitusgroup.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.