Legal

Old Laws Meet New Technology: Sexual Harassment Via Social Media

By Jon Hyman

Jan. 20, 2015

Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a public meeting on workplace harassment. The most interesting testimony was provided by Jane Kow, of HR Law Consultants, who spoke about the impact of harassment on the modern workplace. One of the key areas she covered was the intersection of workplace harassment and social media:

The ease and speed of posting or responding to the proliferation of messages and images on social media — sometimes by employees at the 11th hour, right before bed, in 140 characters or less, and oftentimes without aforethought — has spawned employee complaints of harassment, defamation, violation of a right to privacy and a host of other claims. None of this was even imaginable in 1964 when Title VII was enacted (or in 1991 when it was amended). But employers must now interpret an EEOC guidance that was written and cases that were decided by courts in the old millennia to determine how to apply these rules to regulate conduct in the new workplace of the present and future, transformed by these technological advances. 

Employers are now grappling with how to lawfully regulate employees’ text messages, blogs, and social media activity in the face of potential complaints from co-workers about harassing comments posted or images shared publicly.  

What does this mean for your business. The workplace's boundaries no longer begin a 9 and stop at 5. Technology connects employees to each other 24/7. This added connectivity creates opportunities for greater employee engagement and stronger workplace communities. It also creates opportunities for bad actors to do bad things, like harassment. It's important for employers to keep in mind that agencies and courts will apply the same rules to Facebook harassment as they would to face-to-face harassment. If they aren't treating any differently, neither should you.
Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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