There is an increasing prevalence of internet trolling where thoughtless, cruel and harmful messages are posted. There are examples where trolling has had a profound effect, leaving victims damaged or suicidal. While many suggest that victims should simply turn off social media or ignore the attacks, it is not easy or possible when it’s your job to be online and active on social media 24/7. This creates challenges and responsibilities for employers to keep employees, whose job it is to be online, safe from pernicious trolling and hateful tweets.
In New Zealand, the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 aims to deter, prevent and lessen harmful communications. The Act covers any form of electronic message including texts, emails, photos, recordings, cyber bullying and harassment. This includes the sending or publishing of threatening or offensive material, spreading damaging rumours and sending or publishing sensitive personal information. If a person receives a digital communication that breaches the Act then they have the ability to seek court orders against the author or host of the communication and seek to have any offending content removed. There are also times it is appropriate to report trolling to the police.
The employers’ responsibility includes keeping employees safe from harm arising from the employee’s work duties. Online employment is no different to any other employment in this regard. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and regulations apply to all employees. The Act requires that employees are given protection from workplace health and safety risks so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes risks to both physical and mental health. Employers must provide appropriate training and information for employees so that they can work safely. Employers should provide guidelines and training to employees to ensure that the employees know how to respond to online consumers (including trolls). It is also important that employers check in with their employees to ensure they are not being negatively impacted by consumer responses. Employers should have professional services and resources available to promote good mental health. Many employers in New Zealand already provide Employee Assist Programmes for employees.
Employers need to ensure that employees using social media are doing so without compromising safety. A good starting point is to have appropriate policies and guidelines to deal with the increasing prevalence of trolling. If you need help developing your guidelines, the Wynn Williams Employment Team
can assist you.
Anthony Drake, Partner