20% of Australians have experienced image based abuse! Did you know that?
Very few people are aware that s474.17 of Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (Cth Code) prohibits the use of the internet, social media or a telephone to menace, harass or cause offence to a person. An offence under the Cth Code can result in a maximum penalty of up to 3 years imprisonment.
Generally, at a state level, cyber bullying/harassment is indirectly caught by ‘stalking laws’. However, NSW has recently “upped the ante” in modernising their laws to strengthen and protect people from cyberbullying and online trolling. Now under the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW):
- Offenders will face a maximum of five years in jail.
- The in definitions of “stalking” and “intimidation” have been changed to include social media and online activity.
- The new laws can be used as the basis for “AVO” applications.
- In extreme circumstances, the laws will also apply to juvenile offenders.
The ACT is yet to follow in taking a similar step, and as it stands s35 of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) provides only a maximum penalty for stalking of 2 years’ imprisonment. The definition of Stalking includes:
- “gives or sends offensive material to the stalked person or leaves offensive material where it is likely to be found by, given to or brought to the attention of, the stalked person”;
- sends electronic messages about the stalked person to anybody else;
- makes electronic messages about the stalked person available to anybody else; or
- engages in conduct amounting to intimidation, harassment.
Of note, Electronic messages is not defined. Does this include social media or online activity?
Take away message for employers
So how can this affect you in your workplace? What are the implications, say for example, if one of your staff members is experiencing bullying behaviour at work, including threatening and offensive emails and text messages and Facebook posts from other employees outside of work hours? You need to be mindful of the seriousness of this conduct and ought to report it, or encourage the employee to report it to the police immediately.
Further, to best manage the issues as they impact on the workplace, you should have workplace policies addressing the boundaries of employee conduct in this space relating to cyber bullying, even if it transcends conduct within the workplace. You can do your bit by making your policies protective and informative, and educating staff on reporting and which support avenues are available to them, such as the esafety Commissioner.