Beyond the Four Walls: When Internet Harassment Impacts the Workplace

Co-workers are increasingly chitchatting and swapping information well beyond the classic meeting place: the office water cooler.  With LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, among a host of other social media platforms, employees are certainly well-connected. While the cute vacation photos, most recent New York Times articles, and recipe swaps may be benign enough, used irresponsibly, social media can have significant negative impacts the workplace. One obvious example is when a disgruntled employee decides to take to social media to air out his issues with his job or dirty laundry about a co-worker. In that instance, that employee may be subject to disciplinary action, up to or including termination.

But what about a scenario where an employer actually creates the platform for its employees, such as a professional Facebook page or internal messaging system, or encourages employees to interact through message boards, blogs, etc.?  

In fact, New Jersey Courts have found that these types of internet postings can be considered in connection with an employee’s hostile work environment claim. For instance, in Blakey v. Cont'l Airlines, the New Jersey Supreme Court held: while “employers do not have a duty to monitor private communications of their employees,” they “do have a duty to take effective measures to stop co-employee harassment when the employer knows or has reason to know that such harassment is part of a pattern of harassment that is taking place in the workplace and in settings that are related to the workplace.”

More recently, in Montone v. City of Jersey City, the Appellate Division opined: “if employees post harassing workplace-related comments to an internet forum that the employer does not control, the employer may still have a duty in appropriate circumstances to police the forum.”

As always, there are important nuances to this area of the law.  For example, in New Jersey the Courts employ a test that employers only have a duty to control unlawful harassing and discriminatory content if the social media forum is so closely related and beneficial to the workplace that it is essentially an extension of it.

Hoagland Longo attorneys are available to assist employers in their compliance efforts and to represent clients in matters before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. For more information about social media and its impact on the workplace or any other labor and employment questions you may have, please contact Nicole M. Grzeskowiak or call 732-545-4717.