Bullying and social media matters on the rise

By Lara Bullock|28 September 2015
Erin McCarthy, Piper Alderman

Employment lawyers can expect social media and bullying matters to be big this year, as employers continue to fine-tune their social media policies and performance-management processes, according to a national survey.

National firm Piper Alderman conducted its Employment Matters Survey with more than 2,000 HR managers, general managers, COOs, CEOs and legal teams across Australia for the second year running.

The question ‘What’s keeping you awake at night?’ revealed that headcount reduction, contact with unions, work flexibility requests, paid parental leave, misuse of social media and bullying in the workplace were major concerns for a lot of their clients.

Piper Alderman national employment relations partner Erin McCarthy said that the major increase in social media matters took place a few years ago when employers were dealing with the issues for the first time.


However, 40 per cent of the firm's clients reported having to discipline an employee about their use of social media this year – a four per cent increase on 2014 results.

“We found that 80 per cent of our clients did have a [social media] policy, but the fact that 40 per cent of them were required to discipline someone means that there is still more work to do,” Ms McCarthy said.

“We don't believe that at any time social media is going to decrease as an issue that concerns our clients. We don't believe that we're yet at the point where everybody has a handle on how to deal with social media in every situation.”

Ms McCarthy said that law firms should encourage their clients to tackle social media in a ‘holistic and practical way’.

“There is a tendency to start with a hard line approach where employers prohibit all social media at work, but that ignores the fact that a lot of disputes can arise out of the employees use of social media outside of work,” she said.


“So rather than placing a blanket ban on social media, we encourage our clients to make clear to their employees the standard of behaviour they expect on social media and [give] them practical guidance and training about how to conduct themselves online.”

The report also found that 60 per cent of respondents were required to deal with at least one issue of alleged bullying, and Ms McCarthy said that the majority of those allegations stem from issues with performance management.

“What we're increasingly finding is that actual or perceived inadequacies in the performance-management process are the catalyst for a bullying complaint,” she added.

This can be because the performance management isn't being implemented properly or because the manager who is delivering the performance management is not appropriately skilled in how to provide that constructive criticism, Ms McCarthy said.

“The important service that law firms can give to their clients is ensuring that they have reviewed their performance-management policies, and have given clients advice about ensuring that their processes for reviewing people performance are reasonable and have the appropriate elements of procedural fairness.”

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Bullying and social media matters on the rise
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