February 26, 2015

The use of electronic communication to harass, bully, threaten, and malign, also referred to as “cyberbullying,” has become a growing concern in the 21st century workplace. While cyberbullying shares certain features with traditional face-to-face bullying, it also raises unique considerations for employers and unions. Can an employer track an employee’s emails, Facebook posts, Tweets, or blog entries to investigate suspected cyberbullying? Does it matter what type of social media is being used or whether privacy settings are in place? When will employers be held liable for ignoring cyberbullying? In this session, a panel of Lancaster’s experts will address these and the following questions:

  • Situating cyberbullying in a legal framework: Is cyberbullying treated differently than other forms of bullying and harassment under human rights, occupational health and safety, or workers’ compensation legislation? Will a single email, Facebook post, Tweet, or blog entry be found to constitute personal harassment or discriminatory harassment, or are a series of communications required?
  • Recognizing cyberbullying while respecting privacy: How can employers and unions recognize cyberbullying when it happens? Must they wait for an employee to make a formal complaint? Can employers monitor internal email or text messaging on employer-owned devices to ensure that employees are not engaging in harassing communication? What about social media such as employees’ Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, or blog posts? Can the employer use searches of employees’ email or social networking sites to investigate suspected cyberbullying? Does an employee have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her Facebook page, blog, or Twitter account? Does it matter if the employee restricts access to his or her social media pages through privacy settings or invitation-only safeguards? Does an employer’s tracking of employees’ social media use amount to the collection of personal information subject to privacy legislation?
  • Imposing discipline and avoiding liability: How should employers respond to cyberbullying that takes place outside work hours and with personal computers? Is an employer entitled to discipline an employee for abusive or harassing statements in a private email exchange? What about when such statements are made within Facebook posts, Tweets, or blogs? Does it matter if privacy settings have been used to limit public access? In what circumstances have employers been held liable for ignoring cyberbullying?
  • Preventing cyberbullying through policy and education: How can employers and unions work together to prevent cyberbullying? What are some examples of workplace policies that specifically address cyberbullying? Should employers block access to certain social networking sites from work computers to prevent harassing posts? What kind of training can help create a positive work culture that discourages cyberbullying?