In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

Apps, Email, and Other Possibilities for Harassment in the Virtual Workplace

When we see a good idea, we sometimes ask ourselves, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Then there are those times we say, "What were they thinking?" This is one of those times because this app is not a good idea.

Feeld, a dating app that can piggyback on many office communication networks, is designed to facilitate hook-ups at work. It is not an innovation as much as it is an invitation to sexual harassment. And so now it is time to think about preventing harassment in the virtual workplace.

Virtual Harassment

The reality is that, despite an employer's best efforts, workers will find a way to violate company policies. But fighting harassment in the virtual workplace has to start with some rules to protect both employees and the company.

Virtual harassment can occur through any virtual medium, including email, texting and social networks. Any anti-harassment policy should be spelled out in a handbook, circular, or other form that clearly communicates the standard to employees.

Under federal law, an employer of 15 or more people is liable if it knew or should have known about the harassment, unless the employer took immediate corrective action. In other words, it requires more than a policy against harassment. Employers have to enforce the rules.

If an app like Feeld finds its way onto your network, delete it. Employers should also police other avenues for virtual harassment, especially company email.

Off-Site Harassment

It is another thing to prevent virtual harassment among employees outside company time. Employers do not have the right to monitor an employee's email or personal phone messages at home, for example.

However, an employer does have the right to monitor communications on company-owned phones, computers, and other devices. Along with that right is the responsibility to prevent those devices from being used for harassment in the virtual world.

Virtual harassment may sound like a new legal arena, but it is within the gamut of laws against workplace harassment and cyberstalking that have been around for decades. With tragic reports of cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination at even the biggest tech companies, more laws will surely soon be on the books.

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