Yes, employees can fight workplace harassment with social media

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It’s almost 2016.

By now, who among us: the lawyers, the HR professionals, the owners (Hi there, Mark Cuban, thanks for reading again today), has yet to deal with an allegation of workplace harassment involving social media. Why, just yesterday, I read about an employee who lost his job for going on Facebook and calling a woman — albeit not a female co-worker — a “slut.”

But, how many of us have explored ways that our employees can use social media to address concerns about workplace harassment?

A big issue for the EEOC Task Force.

Earlier this week, the EEOC Task Force on Harassment in the Workplace tackled this question. Among others, the Task Force heard from Jess Kutch, Co-Founder and Co-Director of bills itself as a vehicle for employees “to start, run and win campaigns to change your workplace.”

Before the EEOC, Ms. Kutch testified about an incident involving a female employee who “launched a petition saying she was slapped across the face by her male shift manager in front of coworkers, after asking if she could go home.” After a manager supposedly tried to convince the employee to drop the complaint, she launched a petition on, which hundreds of co-workers then signed. then promoted the petition on its own Facebook page. That petition was then “liked” and “shared” until, finally, the employee was able to communicate directly with decision-makers at corporate, rather than having to rely on managers at her particular location.

Ms. Kutch further testified about how employees, more generally, use Google, Facebook, and Reddit, among other sites, to obtain information about their legal rights in the workplace.

How about an anonymous online reporting system?

Although not mentioned by Ms. Kutch, I could imagine employees resorting to services like Yik Yak, an app available on most any smartphone. Yik Yak serves as a local bulletin board. That is, it aggregate posts on a particular topic made within a few miles of one another. It also allows users to post anonymous. Thus, an employee could use the app without fear of retaliation. (Of course, Yik Yak could also be used to bully co-workers; indeed, it won’t work at many middle schools and high schools).

While it would be difficult for employers to follow up with specific employees about their workplace issues, they could get a candid snapshot of workplace issues that may not be on the corporate radar.

Focus on creating many effective offline channels.

As a matter of law, companies should provide multiple avenues for employees to complain about discrimination and other forms of harassment. The low-hanging fruit for a lawyer representing an employee-plaintiff is to quote from that portion of employee handbook, which reads, “Employees who believe themselves to be the victim of sexual harassment should report it to their immediate supervisor.” Well, that’s all well and good, except when the immediate supervisor is the harasser.

Therefore, while social media may provide a means for employees to address workplace concerns, hopefully, it’s not a measure of first resort. Rather, it is imperative for employers to provide multiple direct and effective methods for employees to address their concerns and improve the workplace.

Image Credit: C_osett on Flickr.
  • Motley Blogger

    I would have fired her for posting on and not going through proper channels. You want to complain about someone using social media, try your supervisor first, then his/her manager and/or HR. Everyone of these is the ultimate form of “social media.” People who don’t pursue remedies within the organization are, nine times out of ten, lousy employees to start with, or they are lying about some aspect of their grievance, or both. Even if the employee was telling the truth in this case, two wrongs don’t make a right. I think we have seen in the “Black Lives Matter” movement what can go wrong when you attempt to crowd-source justice. The result ain’t pretty.

    • Thanks for the comment. I fear that your hypothetical may violate both federal anti-discrimination law (retaliation for opposing unlawful discrimination) and the National Labor Relations Act (employees engaging in protected concerted activity).