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Old Laws Meet New Technology: Sexual Harassment Via Social Media

What digital communication means for the future of workplace boundaries.

Posted by Jon Hyman on October 29th, 2015
Last week, the EEOC 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:

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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 cas es 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
Jon Hyman

Partner, Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis

Jon Hyman, a partner at Cleveland’s Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis, provides proactive solutions to businesses’ workplace problems. He authors the nationally recognized and multiple award winning Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, in addition to two books, Think Before You Click and The Employer Bill of Rights. Jon is an in-demand speaker, having lectured around the county on social media and other workplace legal issues. Jon offers his insight as a member of Workforce Magazine’s editorial advisory board and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s Employment Law Committee. Most recently, John Stossel featured Jon on an episode of his Fox Business television show. Finally, Jon appeared on a November 1999 episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, but sadly lacked the fastest fingers.

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