News Story:

Cyberbullying in the workplace


Cyberbullying in the workplace

Is cyberbullying just fun among teenagers? The phenomenon, which has been known amongst pupils for quite a long time, is increasingly affecting employees and enterprises.  

Numerous media reports provide examples of how outrages on the Internet and online bullying escalate in an uncontrollable manner especially in social networks. The social and psychological consequences for the victim can affect all areas of life. Therefore, employers must learn to successfully meet the challenge to protect their workforce, provided they want to win the fight for outstanding employees.

How does it work?

a) That a victim is bullied by a person or persons known to the victim is nothing new. New is bullying on the Internet. This "cyberbullying" allows the perpetrators to be left anonymous and spares them any direct confrontation with the victim. Cyberbullying can even develop into outrages of the web community on the Internet.

b) Social networks like Xing, Facebook or Twitter allow for an uncontrollably fast and widespread development of cyberbullying. The mouse click on the computer, which takes a second, is outdated. It is the touch on the smartphone, anywhere any time, which reigns today. The numbers of members of social networks explode. An uncontrollable number of persons observe a chat and, thus, an intended or inadvertent defamation of the victim. Both the perpetrators and the observers remain anonymous. Anonymity lowers the inhibition barrier to participation.

c) In the past we had a chat over cups of tea, today we have social media. Due to social networks the interconnectedness also between employees is being shifted to the spare time. As regards cyberbullying, the lines between working hours and spare time are blurred. Private conversation is naturally more informal. Tone and wording sooner result in insults. The respectful atmosphere remaining from the work environment vanishes.

d) It is a fact that:

Bullying is not limited to the business premises. Cyberbullying takes place any time 24-7 wherever the perpetrators and the victims are. Home or holidays are no longer areas of rest.

The circle of co-perpetrators, confidants and observers expands uncontrollably. Colleagues, friends, neighbours etc., whether known or unknown, pursue the bullying, and anonymity and sensation mongering tempt them into participating.

What can cyber-bullied employees do?

Act! Immediately! A small step makes the next one easier. Waiting does not make anything easier. Waiting is satisfactory on rare occasions. Passivity encourages perpetrators: Even if cyberbullying subsides by itself in an exceptional case, there is a good chance that it is revived.

a) Starting signal

Practice shows that a discussion of what happened is an effective first step. The persons participating in the discussion are either trusted and familiar persons or non-involved persons, such as authorities, who provide anonymous advice. Such a discussion is an outlet for the emotions of the affected person. The advantage is to obtain assessment from a third party and to weigh the pros and cons of potential reactions together with a non-involved party.

b) In the workplace

Information of the employer is inevitable. Besides, various organisations may help to protect the employees' interests, for instance a trade union, the works council, an equal opportunity commissioner, an ombudsman, a mediation body or the anti-discrimination institution.

c) Own initiative

An in-house meeting should be prepared. The Internet will never forget content once the content has been posted on the Internet. Print the content and document the incidents.

Keep handling the matter. Suggest discussions with the perpetrators and their bosses. Ask for the outcome.

Ask what measures the company takes to suppress cyberbullying.

Inform your employer that you will contact the provider of the website of the defamation and demand removal of the article.

Inform your employer that you will file a charge.

Implement your announcements.

Check your user profiles in social networks: Are your data correct and do only the correct persons have access to it?

Avoid online counter-actions. An increasing number of articles increases the position in the hit list of search machines. Traceability is facilitated and the opposite is achieved: Publicity increases and defamation continues.

Eileen Gaugenrieder ( ) is a lawyer at CMS Hasche Sigle. CMS Hasche Sigle ( 

With thanks to Alexandra Melzer for her research