Companies urged to tackle office cyberbullying or face damages claims

Companies have been warned to tackle office cyberbullies or face large claims for damages from employees.

A new legal paper advises companies to clamp down on cyberbullying at work by carefully monitoring the use of social networking websites. If firms fail to act, they are leaving themselves open to being sued by distressed employees.

The paper, prepared by Dublin-based employment law firm McDowell Purcell, also warns that unlimited access to websites such as Facebook and Twitter by employees carried a high risk of bullying and harassment in the workplace.

The paper Cyber-bullying in the Workplace — Remedies for Employees points out that while email and internet access in the workplace can bring benefits, unrestricted access exposes firms to claims for personal injury, breach of duty, discrimination, defamation proceedings, IT security violations, and lost productivity.

Until recently, cyber-bullying was seen as a phenomenon mostly affecting school pupils. However, experts now say cyberbullying is becoming more common in the workplace as smartphones and other communication technologies advance.

The paper’s author Julie O’Neill said: “Firms need to ensure that they have robust procedures, including an electronic communications policy in place, to mitigate against the risk of legal claims.”

The key points for employers when introducing an IT policy are:

*Set out ground rules for acceptable usage. Clearly tell employees if personal emails are allowed on the company system;

*Communicate the policy to staff by giving employees a handbook and asking them to sign it;

*Comply with data protection legislation by ensuring that employee consent is granted for the company to monitor internet usage;

*Inform employees of the sanctions for breaching policy.

Firms have also been advised to inform employees that they can be dismissed for using company systems to post inappropriate material on social media sites.

The paper comes after Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte suggested there may be a “gap” in Irish law to deal with current social media issues. He said the Communications Regulation Act 2007 did not extend to social media.


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