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Cyberbullying in the Workplace


Bullying is not a form of mistreatment reserved for adolescents or teenagers; adults can be victims of bullying as well in their workplace. In a 2014 study of bullying the workplace, 27% of adults said they were victims of bullying. Men make up 69% of bullies, 60% of bullied targets are women, and women chose to bully other women 68% of the time. 77% of bullied targets were bullied by the same gender and the targets lost their job at a much higher rate than the bullies themselves. Women victims lost their jobs 89% of the time when bullied by another woman. White Americans had the lowest percentage of being directly impacted by bullying, while Hispanic Americans had the highest percentage and African Americans and Asian Americans tied for second highest. White Americans had the highest percentage for being the actual bullies, whereas Hispanic Americans were second, Asian Americans were third, and African Americans were the bullies the least. 56% of bullies in the workplace are bosses or supervisors and 33% of bullying came from coworkers that were at the same level as the target. 72% of employers either condoned or sustained the bullying and less than 20% of employers took action against any workplace bullying. (http://workplacebullying.org/multi/pdf/WBI-2014-US-Survey.pdf)

Bullying comes in many forms, but the most recent form is cyberbullying. Advances in technology and access to others over the internet is breeding ground for cyberbullies. The option of anonymity and computer barrier make it easier for people to become cyberbullies. This is just as prevalent in the workplace for adults as a high school for teenagers. Courts have recognized workplace cyberbullying and will hold the employers liable. In Blakey v. Continental Airlines, 164 N.J. 38 (2000), the court expanded workplace to include behaviors outside of work hours and the work environment. It held the employer liable for company-sponsored cyberbullying through its online bulletin board. In Espinoza v. County of Orange, 2012 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1022 (Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2012), Ralph Espinoza was born without fingers on his right hand. In 1996, Espinoza began working for the Orange County Probation Department. Id. at 3. A fellow employee started a blog that other corrections officers had access to and other officers began posting harassing comments about Espinoza’s right hand. Id. at 4-8. This online harassment began outside of the workplace, but eventually officers began to post on the blog from their work computers. Id. Referring to the Blakey case, the court held that Orange County was liable for having knowledge of the harassment against Espinoza and it failed to remedy the situation. Id. at 21, 31. Since the blog harassment permeated into the workplace when officers were using their work computers, this bolstered the argument that the online harassment was an extension of the workplace. Id. at 20.

Courts have also held employers liable even when the cyberbully remains anonymous. In Maldonado-Catala v. Muncicipality of Naranjito, NO. CV 13-1561 (BJM), 2016 WL 1411355, at *3 (D.P.R. Apr. 11, 2016), Maldonado received several derogatory and threatening Facebook messages while her sexual harassment claim against her employer was pending. The Facebook profile used a fake name, but after Maldonado filed a police report, the police were able to track the Facebook messages to a computer in her employer’s office. Id. The elements of hostile work environment were (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment; (3) the harassment was based upon sex; (4) the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of plaintiff’s employment and create an abusive work environment; (5) the sexually objectionable conduct was both objectively and subjectively offensive, such that a reasonable person would find it hostile or abusive and the victim in fact did perceive it to be so; and (6) some basis for employer liability has been established. Id. at 8. The court allowed Maldonado to use the Facebook messages as evidence for her hostile work environment claim even though the identity of the person behind the profile was unknown. Id. at 9. Cyberbullying creates a unique problem for employers because it allows the bully to remain anonymous or bully under a fake name. However, courts recognize this problem and will hold employers liable when there is evidence to link the company to the bully.

Mallorie Thomas