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Investigating Digital Harassment in the Workplace

It’s an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for all employees

Posted by Timothy Dimoff on January 21st, 2020

Today’s employees are surrounded by digital technology. And while this has allowed us to be more productive and provides instant communication, it has also led to an increase in online or digital harassment.

Texting, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, IMs and other digital methods of online communication have provided a stealthy and easy way to digitally harass others. Employment lawyers are seeing more and more cases of digital harassment every day.

Investigate Every Digital Harassment Incident

Businesses have a responsibility to their employees to provide a safe workplace. That means that all instances of harassment must be investigated, including digital harassment. Even if the online harassment is subtle, such as showing an explicit photo to someone or commenting on their clothing in a sexual way, if it makes someone uncomfortable, it must be stopped.

Whether the harassment is done on an employee’s personal phone or computer or on a workplace computer, if it is sent to, witnessed or even overheard in the workplace, it must be stopped.

Any complaints must be investigated. Even if the digital harassment takes place on a social media site outside of the workplace, such as asking for dates, commenting on a co-worker’s appearance, or even politically harassing someone for their beliefs or posts, it can be considered workplace harassment.

Interviews are the basis of your investigation. Are you asking the right questions? Download the cheat sheet: Top 20 Questions to Ask in an Investigation Interview

6 Investigation Steps

As an investigator, there are steps that should be taken when investigating any type of online or digital harassment:

  1. First, document actual proof in the form of emails, texts, screen shots, etc. Keep copies of these in a file. Save any recordings of voice mails, but be careful about recording phone calls. It is not always legal and states differ on whether one or both parties need to consent to the recording. Check with your legal department before attempting to record a phone call. Be sure to attach any documentation to your investigation form.
  2. Take comprehensive notes that include contact information for all parties that may have been involved. Be sure to fully explain the situation and any reactions they may have had relating to the situation. Note dates and times of all incidents. Use an HR harassment investigation form or an employee concern form.
  3. Document all attempts to stop the digital harassment including meetings, conversations, written communications, etc. If your company has a strong workplace harassment policy, as it hopefully does, refer to the policy in your talks during the investigation.
  4. Document all witnesses to the harassment.
  5. Document all steps that have been taken to stop the offending behavior.
  6. During the investigation ask the right questions including whether any attempt was made to stop the online harassment and if so, what? What kind of harm was suffered? How did the behavior make the victim feel? How did they react?

Documentation is everything. Download the Sexual Harassment Complaint Form Template.

A properly investigated digital harassment case can go a long way towards preventing legal action. And if legal action should be taken, a well-documented, thorough investigation can help protect the workplace in many ways.

Timothy Dimoff
Timothy Dimoff

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues.
He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University.

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