Yes, employees can fight workplace harassment with social media

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 likeYik 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.

Originally posted on The Employer Handbook.



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.


This hits home because my daughter is currently being bullied at work by management and other employees. She has been come depressed because of it but does not want to quite because she has a car payment and insurance. I contacted Headquarters, spoke to the supervisor, she spoke to her supervisor, but still no change. No employee should have to go to work and be abused. I have started a petition against this company Urban Outfitters. These corporations think that because they are making all this money that they cant be touched, not understanding that their employees and client base are the reason they are in the position they are. I encourage everyone to please sign this petition for force change not only with this company, but so that our State Representatives can create laws that protect employees from abuse. Thank you. The petition is on Change.Org and the link is below.

Recently hired for a training program with a local company. First two weeks of classroom were great -I showed up early every day, payed attention and did well on my written tests. 3rd week we were all assigned individual instructors for the next 2 weeks of "hands on" training. My trainer (aka trainer #1) was a nightmare from the get go. He yelled, repeatedly shook his head back and forth and occasionally rolled his eyes at me. On the morning of the 3rd day he told me he "just didn't think I was going to make it & he might be able to get me 1-4 days additional training before the final exam & that it would likely be 1 day and he didn't see that as being a benefit. All the while he's standing with arms folded, shaking his head. Of course my self confidence at that point was shattered. This employer video tapes due to the nature of their business -not that my hands on testing was required to be taped, but the tape was running -always running ---so most of his actions were recorded. Some things were said to me in the parking lot, so I've no proof of those things. Day 3 started with his cranky behavior to which I put my hand up and said, "Please don't start with your negative chit-chat because when you do that to me then everything I know I know goes right out the window and is replaced with self doubt!" His response was, "ok, ok...." but the original attitude quickly reappeared within the hour. Day 4 I told him I could no longer work with him and was prepared to leave the program because of his negative comments. First he denied saying these things to me and so I spoke to the training supervisor who offered to provide me with another trainer. I agreed & was to start the next morning at a different location. This trainer, #2, was 45+ minutes late arriving on the first day and had to leave at, 2 hrs of training was all I received the first day with #2; following week #2 was again 45+ minutes late, #2 left early another day and said we would resume after lunch --after lunch I received a text saying "won't be back today".....#2 also delighted in talking (in front of me) about trainer #1 was "in the manager's face" advocating my dismissal from the program. I told #2 that this talk was upsetting to me (as I can't figure out why he wants me gone so badly!). #2 apologized for the conversation. continued and I was told that #1 was reprimanded for his shoddy behavior and was also passed up for a promotion. Not sure if the promotion thing had anything to do with me. Long story short --two weeks of this was more than I was willing to take. I left the program and have decided to look at other opportunities.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: