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Bullying In The Workplace


									Bullying in the workplace has been defined by the conciliatory service ACAS as
actions 'characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an
abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate
of injure the recipient'. While most people think that this definition just refers to
physical or verbal bullying, the development of emails and other forms of electronic
communication in the workplace have brought a new but equally sinister aspect to the
problem of workplace intimidation.


What is cyber-bullying? Emails and mobile phone texts have made it easy for people
to communicate 24/7, whether an employee is at work or not. But whereas physical or
verbal bullying is distinguished by the fact that it involves direct, physical proximity
and often confrontation, the cyber-bully can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.
Sending threatening or intimidating emails, texts or even 'Twitters' or posting on a
public forum such as Facebook, can be constituted as bullying behaviour and
therefore just as damaging to the recipient as physical or verbal abuse.

Since 2006, UK discrimination law has made it illegal to discriminate on the grounds
of a variety of reasons including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, age and
disability. There is also protection to prevent employees being harassed on the
grounds of their affiliation or otherwise to a trade union. All of this legislation has
made workplaces more secure against bullying or harassment, but the Internet and
texting gives bullies a chance to circumvent the usual self-regulation that happens
within the workplace. However, this belief that the Internet also transcends the law is
false. The same laws that govern workplace physical and verbal bullying also cover
cyber-bullying. And this time, there's actual, physical evidence of the crime in the
form of the emails themselves.

What to do if you're being cyber-bullied!

If an employee feels that they are under attack from a cyber-bully, the first thing to do
is to notify the employer. Companies that monitor employees' internet and email use
to reduce the risk of cyber-bullying should ensure that they comply with their
obligations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Data
Protection Act 1998, and the Telecommunications Regulations 2000. Most companies
have strict policies on email content, and emails containing abusive, sexual or profane
content will in many cases be a cause for instant dismissal. Rather than deleting any
email that contains detrimental content (as is probably the first instinctive reaction),
the material needs to be retained as evidence of the bullying. Most companies' IT
departments should be able to locate the source of any email relatively easily, so the
culprit, if they are a work colleague, can often be quite easily caught.

The grey area comes in the language used in cyber-bullying. An obvious threat,
abusive language or sexually explicit and violent language is clear-cut and a criminal
offence, but cyber-bullies often use more subtle techniques to intimidate work
colleagues. It is here that accusations of cyber-bullying can become difficult to

Employers must make sure that they have up-to-date, effective IT policies which set
out clear guidelines for the use of all electronic communications equipment to conduct
correspondence and the consequences for non-compliance. Disciplinary policies
should make it clear that cyber-bullying may constitute gross misconduct, and could
result in summary dismissal.

An employee cannot make a complaint to an employment tribunal on the grounds of
cyber-bullying alone. However, if the cyber-bullying relates to their sex, race,
disability, sexual orientation, age or religion, they may be able to bring a claim for
discrimination and/or harassment. In serious cases, employees may choose to resign
and bring a claim for constructive dismissal.

It is crucial that employers take appropriate action to deal with cyber-bullying and
treat it as seriously as face-to-face workplace bullying. The employer's duty of care to
their staff beholds them to ensure that destructive behaviour such as cyber-bullying
does not make it impossible for an employee to feel safe or able to continue working
in that environment. Cyber-bullying is as serious an issue as any other form of
workplace intimidation and must be treated so.

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