COVID-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on businesses around Australia, and the world. But there’s another impact we need to prepare for … an increase in workplace cyberbullying. As more people are working remotely than ever before, it becomes harder for employers to monitor their employee’s behaviour towards one another.
What is workplace bullying and cyberbullying?
The Fair Work Commission says “Bullying at work occurs when:
- A person or a group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work
- The behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.”
Workplace bullying can include unreasonable work demands or an attack on an individual’s characteristics. Cyberbullying is bullying perpetrated through electronic media. It’s important to note, workplace bullying is not management action that is reasonably carried out (such as carrying out a performance appraisal).
No escape when bullying goes online
With more employees working remotely, there is even more chance that bullying and harassment can move online (cyberbullying) as perpetrators hide behind their screens. Some examples of cyberbullying include malicious emails, excessive online contact and even frequent or unnecessary interruptions in virtual meetings.
Cyberbullying can continue outside work hours, where a recipient may struggle to escape the impact with personal and workplace digital devices ensuring the victim is constantly accessible via social media, texting or email. Cyberbullying can potentially reach the public domain where it has the risk of damaging the reputation of both the employee and the business they work for.
The impact of bullying and cyberbullying
Both in-person workplace bullying and cyberbullying can have an enormously negative effect on both the worker and the business. For the individual, bullying can harm an employee’s mental health, leading to psychological distress and emotional exhaustion. It can also cause absenteeism, loss of productivity, damage to team morale and cost the business time and money to mitigate.
Prevention is better than cure
As clichéd as this statement is, when it comes to workplace bullying or harassment, prevention is better than cure. But how do employers prevent cyberbullying?
Start by reviewing and updating your policies around bullying and harassment to reflect the changing nature of the workplace – including remote work and new digital technologies. It’s imperative to ensure employees and managers are aware of and understand these policies. It’s also important they know what actions to take if they feel bullying or harassment is taking place.
Other things employers can do to help reduce the risk of cyberbullying include:
- Having a clear, zero-tolerance policy which addresses cyberbullying
- Promoting a friendly and inclusive workplace culture
- Leading by example
- Ensuring employees know how to report concerns
Failing to address bullying can lead to legal action!
Failure to address bullying and harassment in the workplace, both online and off, can result in legal action. An employee in a constitutionally covered business who feels they have been subject to workplace bullying can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying. The Commission may attempt to resolve the issue between the parties without a formal hearing. However, if this is unsuccessful or not appropriate under the circumstances, a formal hearing may be required.
If you have any concerns about bullying and harassment occurring within your business (including cyberbullying) or would like help with updating your policies and procedures to adopt a zero-tolerance culture, give The HR Dept a call. Our team can help you develop or update your relevant policies and procedures.