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Cyber-libel and the quest for information about workplace bullying

Without any question whatsoever it is smart for organizations and those who manage them to address issues of workplace bullying. It is not only smart but, since about this time last year, it is the law that all Ontario workplaces (and most Canadian workplaces regardless of location) have a policy dealing with workplace harassment. The law (Occupational Health and Safety Act) requires that your program that implements the policy must contain a method for employees to complain about incidents of harassment in the workplace.

So, it makes sense that HR professionals, managers and business owners are educating themselves in order to comply with the law and protect their organizations from legal liability. BUT, how are they going about this educational process? I was thoroughly shocked at something I read recently via an online discussion forum on the topic of seeking information about workplace bullying.

A person who self-identified including their name and status as an HR professional asked fellow readers of the forum for advice on how to deal with senior executives who bully subordinates in the workplace. The person made it clear that this was an actual challenge they were currently dealing with at a specific workplace that was also clearly identified within the poster’s online profile.

I ask you to ponder a moment the implications of the situation described above.

The first step in dealing with any form of workplace harassment (including top-down bullying of subordinates) is a program that provides employees with a clear avenue of complaint. The program must include training on how to initiate the complaint process and, if done well, will educate workers that the law protects them from reprisal should they exercise their rights under the law.

This information is readily available via a simple online search—anonymously. When we put our photos, names, places of employment out there for the entire world to see, we must be prudent about the information we share—even if only by implication.

A brief understanding of Internet defamation or cyber-libel, by Yosie Saint-Cyr was published on this blog last month. I highly recommend a review of Yosie’s post.

Learn don’t litigate

  • Do educate yourself and your organization about prevailing law and best practices by asking questions and networking with other professionals
  • Do not divulge private, confidential or potential defamatory information on a public forum

Andrew Lawson

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Andrew Lawson

Trainer and advisor at Learn Don't Litigate
Andrew Lawson is a human rights and health and safety trainer and advisor, currently consulting to both the federal and Ontario governments. Since 1996, he has conducted extensive legal research in the areas of human rights and occupational health and safety law. He has worked in the people management business for over 25 years. Read more
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