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Protecting workers from online harassment

The information age has opened up new opportunities for businesses in New York and around the country, but it has also created a number of potentially thorny legal problems for employers. Many companies rely on e-mail and social media for business communications and to engage with their customers, but failing to adequately protect workers from inappropriate online content can leave employers vulnerable to harassment complaints and lawsuits.

There are two ways that workers can be harassed online. Most complaints of this type are made after workers have been exposed to inappropriate content, such as pornographic images or offensive jokes, after seeing them displayed on workplace computers or receiving them in emails, but images or language of a racial or sexual nature posted online about workers can be even more damaging.

Employers can prevent or limit this kind of behavior by putting strict policies in place that filter emails and prevent pornographic or offensive websites being accessed on work computers. These policies should be enforced diligently, and workers who break the rules should face severe sanctions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been known to take legal action against employers when action to curb online harassment has not been taken quickly enough. Workers can also take steps to protect themselves from harassment by not revealing sensitive personal information on social media or online forums.

An inappropriate joke may be seen as harmless by some workers and deeply offensive by others. Attorneys experienced in employment law may be able to assess inappropriate online content to determine whether or not the the behavior involved amounts to actionable harassment. They could also explain the consequences that employers could face when they fail to address this kind of harassment or take retaliatory action against workers who complain about it.

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