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Does online harassment count as workplace harassment?

Your workplace is quiet, civil and organized. People don't even talk to each other all that much, just nodding to say hello on the way through the rows of desks. If someone stood in the hall and watched you work, they'd see very minimal interaction, and what they did see would appear normal and even friendly.

But you're still getting harassed by your co-workers and supervisors, almost every single day. You know they don't like you, and that quiet workplace couldn't feel more hostile. You dread going to work every morning.

What's going on?

The problem is simple: The harassment is happening online. It's not audible and no one sees it taking place, but everyone knows. Everyone is in on it. It even happens while you're at work, and those silent co-workers just 10 feet away are heavily involved.

Is this still workplace harassment? Or is it something else entirely?

It can count as workplace harassment and courts have acknowledged it as such in the past. The internet has simply added a digital element to the workplace, but that's still part of your workplace. Leaving a note online isn't all that different than leaving a derogatory note on your desk. People can't get away with it just because it happens online.

For example, in one case, a number of workers started a blog where they attacked and insulted another co-worker. That person found out about the blog and the things that people said on it, and it turned out that employees were logging in to write on it while they were actively on the clock, in the same workplace. A resulting court case granted that victim $800,000.

The employer did not agree with the ruling, saying that the actions on the blog weren't technically related to the company. The employer did not authorize it or promote the activity.

Time and place matter

Even so, the court maintained that it counted as harassment since employees were clearly involved, another employee was clearly the target, and the actions took place on company time, with company computers. It was also noted that the employer found out what was happening and still allowed employees to log onto the blog for months before blocking it. While this didn't promote the activity, it allowed it to happen.

In other cases, courts have allowed employers to simply block access and not hand out monetary compensation. For instance, one employer blocked Facebook after derogatory comments were made on an employee's profile. Social media opens up the door for this type of behavior in a way that is highly visible and can be damaging to a person's reputation and emotional well-being.

It's crucial for employees to know their rights. While the internet does change how interactions take place, it's clear that it still falls under the same legal protections.

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