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From: Forbes Heidi Lynne Kurter, Senior Contributor

As companies shift to remote work, cyberbullying and digital discrimination are on the rise. The recent cyberbullying scandal at luggage startup Away, exposed CEO Steph Korey for mistreating her employees through their internal communication platform, Slack. Workplace bullying has only recently started to gain the attention it deserves but at the unfortunate cost of extreme cases.

While every state has an anti-bullying law, not all states have policies enforcing the law. For this reason, not every company and incident is held to the same standard. Furthermore, bullying, cyberbullying and related behaviors are treated differently due to a lack of federal law.

Regardless if a policy is currently in place or not, managers and employers should make it known that cyberbullying and digital discrimination won’t be tolerated. Additionally, employees should be made aware of impending consequences. Cyberbullying shouldn’t be treated any differently than if bullying were happening in the office. Jennifer Walde, director of operations at WikiLawn, stated cyberbullying can be handled with a general bullying policy but the means of reporting and investigating the incidents have to be different.

Here are three ways companies can protect employees from cyberbullying and digital discrimination.

Establish A Clear Reporting Process

Companies shouldn’t waste any time responding to a complaint or concern. Kia Roberts, principal and founder, Triangle Investigations, shared, establishing a process consists of interviewing witnesses, keeping thorough documentation and making a conclusion, and perhaps most importantly—figuring out what corrective measures will be taken if it is established that cyberbullying occurred.

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Employers can take a proactive approach to prevent cyberbullying or repeat incidents by implementing cyberbullying training and policies. This provides a variety of benefits such as

  • Providing procedures and resources for targeted employees to report incidents
  • Educating employees on how to recognize and respond
  • Preventing bullying in the workplace

A third-party anonymous reporting channel gives workers the outlet to report a problem when they don’t feel comfortable going to HR or their manager. According to SHRM, in 2018, 57% of misconduct reports were anonymous. While some may argue that anonymous hotlines aren’t effective, 57% is a substantial amount. The reason people believe hotlines are ineffective are due to companies not taking reports seriously or employees not knowing how or where to make a report.

Here are a few ways employers can improve their anonymous reporting structure:

  • Frequently communicate the various ways employees can make anonymous reports
  • Explain why reporting is effective and counter negative talk about “reports being a waste of time”
  • Take all concerns seriously
  • Follow-up to ensure a resolution

In their 2019 Definitive Corporate Compliance Benchmark ReportNavex Global, an industry leader in ethics and compliance software, shared “a reporting channel typically consists of telephone, web, mobile and other whistleblower channels through which employees and other stakeholders can make reports.”

Make Policies Accessible

Targets of cyberbullying and digital discrimination often hesitate to report incidents due to fear of retaliation, losing their job, or not being taken seriously. More often than not, companies don’t have their policies accessible, therefore, employees believe they’re not protected. As a result, incidents go unreported, the bullying continues and the performance and engagement of the employee deteriorate.

Since a majority of traditional workers are working from home now, when cyberbullying occurs, it has a significant impact on their mental and physical health. Natalia D’Souza, lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand, whose research focuses on bullying and cyberbullying, shared “workplace cyberbullying can extend into targets’ home lives and act as a constant stressor, preventing them from unwinding and replenishing their coping resources.” Dr. Dianne Ford, professor of information systems and organizational behavior at the Faculty of Business Administration, further explained “home is typically a safe space for employees. However, when virtual harassment occurs in the home space, the safe buffer is removed and is associated with greater fear of future harassment.”

Workplace cyberbullying typically occurs through email, social media, internal communication platforms, video calls or text message. The National Cyber Security Alliance shares examples of each type of bullying here.

In order to be effective, company policies need to clearly communicate how incidents should be reported. For example, if a policy dictates to report cyberbullying to a direct manager, yet the manager happens to be the bully, the policy should provide alternatives such as calling a hotline or reporting to human resources. This helps avoid confusion and prevents the target from feeling silenced.

Demonstrate Commitment And Compliance

Leaders are the role models that nurture a healthy work environment. Employees look to their managers to see what’s tolerated and what’s not. When policies are enforced inconsistently, employees second-guess the organization’s commitment to integrity, safety and their employees wellbeing.

Managers have a moral responsibility to protect their workers from bullying. Everyone, regardless of rank or title, should be treated fairly and face the same consequences when they abuse policies or mistreat others. Demonstrating commitment and compliance cultivates a culture that ensures individuals feel safe, valued, comfortable and heard.

While companies can’t monitor every Zoom call or private communication, they should make it a point to monitor public channels, immediately address disrespectful video conference comments and take every complaint seriously.

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