Textual Harrassment Is No LOL Matter

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With an increasing number of employees use text messaging to interact professionally and increase their productivity in the workplace, employers are now discovering some serious repercussions as a result of this inherently casual and convenient form of communication, according to Detroit-based employment law firm Nemeth Burwell, PC. 

“We are alerting employers to the rising number of employee complaints and lawsuits involving inappropriate and offensive text messages sent by co-workers,” said Nemeth Burwell senior attorney Monica M. Moore. “Employers should treat textual harassment as they would any other form of harassment.”

The firm recommends that businesses re-examine their current policies and update guidelines to specifically address harassment by texting.

“With these types of lawsuits on the rise, employers can no longer pretend that text messaging is only for pre-teens and high school students,” Moore said. “Fortunately, when it comes to harassment in the workplace, the solution is old-fashioned.  As with any form of harassment, it is crucial for employers to demonstrate they took appropriate steps to prevent or correct harassing behavior.”

According to Moore, employees should be reminded that text messages, like e-mail, are traceable and can be used to uncover the truth.

She offers a number of measures employers should consider to increase the likelihood that text messaging and the technology used to text message are used appropriately in the workplace:

* Have a well-publicized harassment policy.
* Make certain that all employees receive proper training on the policy, including training on what not to do with the latest technologies.
* Implement clear procedures for employees to raise complaints of harassment.
* Handle complaints promptly and appropriately in an effort to resolve the issue at an early stage.
* Remind managers that the company’s anti-retaliation policies apply not only to the person who has reported the harassment, but also to those who participate in any investigation of the complaint.
* Consider monitoring or inspecting employees’ text messages if the device used to send text messages is provided by the company.
* If a company decision has been made not to allow text messaging for work-related matters, disable the text message function on company-issued devices.
* Defeat expectations of privacy by distributing a policy clearly stating that employee communications with company devices will be monitored and are not private.
* Establish that text messages, whether sent using a company-issued device or the employees’ personal equipment, are subject to inspection in the course of an investigation of a harassment complaint involving text messaging.

“It’s inevitable a certain segment of employees will use text messaging to convey inappropriate and offensive messages to other employees,” Moore said. “Employers, however, may minimize their potential liability by reminding employees of their harassment policies, making specific mention of all forms of communication, including e-mail, text messages, instant messages, etc., and clearly communicating to their employees that employee-to-employee text messaging should be done only as a business necessity and that employees will be held responsible for offensive or harassing text messages.”

More at www.nemethburwell.com.

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.

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