Many people are enjoying the opportunity to work from home, perhaps for the first time, during 2020. But remote working can be tough if you miss in-person interaction with colleagues.
It can also be very difficult if remote technology has opened up the possibility of co-workers harassing, bullying, or abusing you. If you were bullied as a child, this can bring back awful memories. You may find it tough to stand up for yourself. You may worry that you have somehow caused the bullying, or even that you deserve it.
Don’t put up with cyberbullying. It can feel difficult to tackle because it may happen in subtle ways or through non-work channels. But in some cases you have specific rights that mean employers must take action.
Here are two specific types of cyberbullying, your rights, and what you can do.
Is a colleague making unwanted flirty remarks in your DMs? Or is there a culture of unwelcome sexual innuendo or sexual advances from colleagues?
Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination. This means it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
To be considered harassment, sexual cyberbullying needs to meet certain requirements. For instance, it might involve:
- The implication – or outright statement – that you need to put up with this conduct in order to advance in the organization.
- Interference with your work performance.
- The creation of an intimidating, hostile, or otherwise offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment is often from a man toward a woman, but this is not always the case. Men can be sexually harassed by women too, and sexual harassment can also be same-sex.
Racial harassment can take a lot of different forms. It might be deliberately designed to seem innocuous, such as “jokes” or name-calling that’s racist.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be obviously racist conduct, though. It could involve someone constantly ignoring your ideas or gossiping behind your back, because of your race.
There’s quite a high bar for racial harassment. The conduct needs to be severe and pervasive, not just unwelcome.
Other Types of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying in the workplace can also involve things like leaving you out of meetings, making false allegations about you online, sharing photos of you that you wouldn’t want shared, and many other forms of bullying.
It’s important to recognize that cyberbullying doesn’t need to involve work systems. It may not be happening in your email or Slack account (though that’s common too) – it could be on personal social media accounts.
What Can You Do About Cyberbullying?
Even if the bullying or abuse you’re suffering isn’t likely to meet the bar of legal action, you can and should still speak up.
Your company may well have policies against sexual or racist abuse, or against any kind of bullying. They have the power to discipline or even fire colleagues.
Talk to others in your company in private, perhaps through email, through Slack DMs, or on a phone call. You may find that your co-workers are being harassed too.
Talk to your supervisor about what’s happening, and show them what’s taking place.
Don’t let the bullying intimidate you into leaving a job that you’d otherwise enjoy. But equally, if the problems stem from poor management and leadership, consider whether you’d be happier in a different job.
Talk to people you trust outside work – perhaps family members, friends, or even a legal advisor, depending on the extent of the cyberbullying. Sometimes, you may feel that a behavior is “normal” when in fact it’s far outside the bounds of a healthy workplace environment. Getting an outside perspective can help you see what is and isn’t reasonable, and may help you feel supported in standing up for yourself.
It might seem to go without saying – but don’t join in any kind of bullying or harassment of others. Even if you feel it’s warranted because that person has bullied you, don’t be tempted to retaliate. Otherwise, you could be disciplined instead, or the incidents could be dismissed as little more than a “personality clash.”
Above all, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and your rights in the workplace.
About the Author: Erika Rykun is a content strategist and producer who believes in the power of networking and quality writing. She’s an avid reader, writer, and runner.