We all have read about incidents of cyberbullying. These typically involve students who make derogatory posts about classmates. Indeed, quite recently a student from New Jersey was found guilty of causing the suicide of his college roommate by posting a video of his roommate engaged in homosexual activities.
Unfortunately, the cyberbully has now entered the work force.
In Espinoza v. County of Orange, the California Court of Appeals recently held that an employer can be liable for the off-duty harassment by its employees against a disabled co-worker on a blog. The court underlined the fact that the employer had knowledge about the harassing blog being generated by its employees, and ruled this was enough to trigger a duty to take prompt remedial measures. In some part the court seemed to be influenced by the fact that similar harassment had occurred in the workplace, leading the court to conclude that the on-line harassment was an extension of the workplace harassment.
Although the case was decided under California state law, it certainly underscores the need for employers to develop effective policies with respect to the internet activities of their employees. While it is true that employers generally do not have the duty to monitor employee’s private communications, this case shows that once an employer becomes aware of non-work time harassment, the law may impose a duty on the employer to stop it, particularly if it can be tied to the workplace.
For more information on these matters and for assistance with all of your employment law needs, contact Titus Brueckner & Levine PLC at 480-483-9600.