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Textual Harassment at Work — New Employer Risk?

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Textual Harassment at Work — New Employer Risk?

I think most people as a rule know that workplace romances are a bad idea. In fact, some companies go as far as to prohibit their employees from dating. Nevertheless, coworkers still date and break up. Unfortunately, with continued advances in the digital age and changes in social interaction, ending an office romance might not be as easy as it used to be. Now, thanks to social media, we have the ability to keep tabs on our friends 24/7, potentially allowing a failed office romance to turn into harassment at work.

An Academy of Management Study, “Sexual Harassment Versus Workplace Romance: Social Media Spillover and Textual Harassment in the Workplace,” found that 33% of employees find love in the workplace. Yet, how many of those relationships actually make it? And, if they don’t, can the involved parties maintain a professional relationship?

In the study, the authors present a possible scenario of a workplace romance gone bad. The example talks about a failed relationship, leading to uncomfortable texts during business hours and stalking via Foursquare and Twitter, despite the other party’s request to be left alone. By all appearances the two parties seem completely professional to outside parties, but the woman clearly feels harassed.

The couple in the example above chose to embark on a workplace romance, aware at least at some level that it might not work out. So, is it the employers job to resolve textual harassment (sexual harassment occuring via social media)? According to Richard Landers, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Old Dominion University, textual harassment is a gray area for employers, with no clear sign that it is their responsibility. But, with failed workplace romances resulting in 6% of employees leaving their job employers may want to take steps to help prevent textual harassment. Organizations could amend their codes to include language that communicates a zero-tolerance for textual harassment between employees, regardless of a parties physical location at the time of the interaction.

About the Author

Cindy Knezevich, VP, Marketing Operations. Cindy is responsible for creating and executing The Network’s marketing strategy, including demand generation, public relations, social media, web marketing and analyst relations. Connect with Cindy on LinkedIn
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