Workplace Harassment and Social Media: What You Need to Know
Social media has connected us in new ways. Friends, old and new, are never more than just a click away. Unfortunately, our ability to stay in touch can pose a problem when it comes to the workplace. Harassment on social media can be an ongoing issue.
Whether you’re an employer or an employee, knowing what the law says about workplace harassment and social media is important. Our Tampa employment law attorneys explain:
Can Social Media Posts Be Considered Workplace Harassment?
Yes, social media posts can be considered workplace harassment. Inappropriate behavior can contribute to a hostile work environment, whether it occurs at work or through social media channels. Employees do not get a free pass to say and do what they want outside of working hours. The contact they have on their own time can be considered workplace harassment, even if it occurs in the form of social media posts.
What Is Sexual Harassment on Social Media in a Workplace Context?
Sexual harassment on social media in a workplace context is unwanted behavior of a sexual nature or behavior targeted against a person based on sex. It may be quid pro quo activity that includes demanding actions or favors from someone with promises of beneficial treatment or threats of penalties.
In addition, it can also be behavior that creates a pervasively hostile work environment. Social media can be used to perpetrate sexual harassment in a workplace context if individuals who work together in a professional setting, such as coworkers, interact using social media.
What Are Some Examples of Workplace Harassment Using Social Media?
Some types of workplace harassment using social media may include:
- Unwanted contact between parties
- Offensive gestures
- Suggestive comments
- Posting about a person without their consent
- Threats, demands or promises to coerce particular behavior or actions
Workplace harassment using social media can occur on third-party social networks like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. However, the employer may also have private networks that employees use to interact. Any of these channels may be grounds for harassment via social media.
Can an Employee Be Fired for Workplace Harassment on Social Media?
Yes, an employee can be disciplined or fired for communications on social media that amount to workplace harassment. Things outside of work hours or outside the premises can contribute to the workplace environment. When employees use social media to engage in harassment, they can be disciplined up to and including termination.
Can an Employer Be Liable for What an Employee Posts on Social Media?
An employer can be liable for employee posts on social media if they fail to protect others from sexual harassment. An employer must take action if a worker uses social media to engage in harassment that becomes pervasive in the workplace.
There is no exception for inappropriate behavior that occurs on social media as compared to any other environment. If the employer doesn’t take appropriate action to respond and root out the harassment, they may be the ones liable to the victim.
Do Freedom of Speech Laws Protect Employees for What They Post on Social Media?
In general, freedom of speech laws do not protect employees from what they post on social media. The First Amendment is meant to protect citizens from unfair interference from the government on a person’s private speech.
However, a private employer does not have the same restriction. Some states have specific laws that prohibit employers from interfering with lawful activities outside of work. However, freedom of speech laws do not prevent an employer from penalizing or terminating an employee for using social media to engage in stalking or harassment.
What Makes an Employer Legally Liable for Sexual Harassment on Social Media?
An employer is legally liable for sexual harassment on social media if they allow behavior to continue to the point that it creates a perversive environment of sexual harassment. In other words, they must respond appropriately when they have knowledge that sexual harassment is occurring.
The inappropriate conduct may occur strictly on social media, or it may happen in a hybrid of social media and other contexts. When an employer fails to root out quid pro quo demands, threats or a hostile work environment, the employer may be legally liable for sexual harassment on social media.
What Can an Employer Do to Prevent Workplace Harassment Through Social Media?
There are several things that an employer can do in order to prevent workplace harassment through social media:
- Have a social media policy – The first step to preventing workplace harassment through social media is to have a clear policy on harassment. Let employees know, formally and in writing, that harassment can occur on social media.
- Make sure employees know they can report harassment without retaliation – Workers must be free to report harassment. They need to know that retaliation against people who speak up will not be tolerated.
- Provide sexual harassment training – Help employees understand what sexual harassment is and how it can occur online. Providing this training not only provides a foundation for the employer in taking conduct seriously, but it also helps employees identify and avoid inappropriate conduct.
- Respond as appropriate when complaints arrive – When a person bravely speaks up about harassment at work, the employer has a legal obligation to respond appropriately. They must determine what action should be taken to root out the harassment and remedy the workplace environment. The company should be prepared to conduct investigations and determine appropriate discipline when they receive reports of workplace harassment and social media.
What Should an Employee Do if They Are Sexually Harassed on Social Media?
If an employee is harassed on social media, they should report it to their employer. They should not take any action that may give rise to the impression that the behavior is accepted or tolerated. Saving evidence like taking screenshots of what has occurred can help the employer take decisive action to respond and stop the behavior.
If the employer fails to respond appropriately to the allegations, the employer may face legal liability for allowing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Tampa Attorneys for Workplace Harassment on Social Media
Have you been the victim of workplace harassment on social media? Let our attorneys fight for your rights. Contact our attorneys for social media harassment to talk about your case.
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