‘Textual harassment’ a growing liability for employers

Text messaging used as a tool for harassers, but it leaves clear evidence of the misconduct

Text messaging is becoming more common as a method of employee harassment in the workplace and a bigger liability concern for employers, according to employment lawyers cited on the American legal website law.com.

U.S. courts are starting to see harassment cases stemming from inappropriate and harassing messages sent by bosses or co-workers to employees on their cellphones. Most common are male bosses who send text messages to female employees, such as requests for dates or sexual favours. The interesting thing about this behaviour, for which the term “textual harassment” has been coined, is that as soon as it’s committed, the victim has evidence for a complaint with the message on their cellphone.

“We’re actually seeing it happening …lawsuits are being filed, where an employee will testify that one of the means they were harassed by someone was through text messages,” Clint Robison, of law firm Hinshaw and Culbertson in Los Angeles, told law.com. “(Text messages) come up in pure harassment claims and wrongful termination lawsuits, where employees are being deposed and saying, ‘Well, I can prove (harassment) because the dinner date invitation from my boss was sent to me late at night.”

Harassment through texting isn’t just limited to bosses and subordinates, however. There are cases of co-workers exchanging messages that turns into a bullying atmosphere.

While the number of harassment incidents involving text messages is increasing, some employers may be slow to catch on the pitfalls that come with this type of harassment. David Walton, a lawyer at U.S. law firm Cosen O’Connnor and vice-chairman of the firm’s e-discovery task force, says employers don’t usually review text messages until it’s too late. And if the messages are sent to an employee’s personal device, the employer can’t review them at all. Either way, employers can get into a lot of trouble from a few inappropriate messages.

“(Text messages) have really been a gold mine in terms of finding evidence to support and corroborate claims of sexual harassment in the workplace,” said employment lawyer Jennifer Salvatore of Ann Arbor, Mich., on law.com. “In the he-said, she-said cases, you look at the texts and you can see who is telling the truth.”

Latest stories