Online abuse in the workplace

Online abuse can cause psychological and physical harm. Work health and safety laws require employers to take care of the health and safety of workers and others. This includes managing the risks of online abuse while working. 

Online abuse in the workplace 

Online abuse can cause psychological and physical harm. WHS laws require persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) (such as employers) to ensure workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes yourself, contractors, volunteers and other people like clients, customers and visitors at your workplace. You must manage the health and safety risks of working online or with other technologies.  

What is online abuse 

Online abuse is behavior that uses technology to threaten, intimidate, bully, harass or humiliate someone. It is sometimes referred to as cyber abuse or technology-facilitated abuse.  

Online abuse can take place on online platforms such as social media, online chat, and messaging services, by telephone (calls and text messages), email or any other technology used at work.  

Online abuse at work might come from customers, clients or members of the public, but it can also happen between workers, supervisors and managers. It may also happen away from the workplace such as when a worker is working from home. 

See our fact sheet  on what online abuse might look like. 

What should PCBUs do to manage the risk of online abuse? 

If you or anyone at your workplace is in immediate danger, call triple zero (000). 

If your business involves working online or with other technologies, you must manage the risk of online abuse just as you would for any other workplace hazard. This means you must eliminate or minimise risks as much as you reasonably can.  

For practical steps you can take to prevent online abuse at your workplace, see the information sheet for employers.

Workplaces should have:  

  • a safe physical and online working environment  

  • safe work systems and procedures to prevent and respond to behaviours such as violence, aggression, bullying and sexual harassment online 

  • a workplace policy which sets out how the workplace will prevent and respond to these behaviours, including acceptable standards of behaviour for all workers, customers and clients 

  • information, training and supervision, such as what to do if online abuse happens, how to report it and how workers can access support services. 

You must consult your workers and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) about risks of online abuse and ways to eliminate or minimise these risks. 

What should I do if I experience online abuse? 

If you or anyone at your workplace is in immediate danger, call triple zero (000). 

Online abuse is never acceptable and should never be considered as part of doing your job. 

See our fact sheet for practical steps that you can take if you experience online abuse at work. 

Your PCBU should provide you with information and training about how to respond if you are experiencing online abuse at your workplace, how to report it and the support services available to you.  

In some circumstances, workers or their health and safety representatives (HSRs) have the right to refuse to carry out or stop unsafe work. The risk must be serious and imminent. You must tell your PCBU as soon as possible and be available for other suitable work. See the Guide: Preventing workplace violence and aggression for more information. 

As a worker, you also have a WHS duty to take reasonable care of your own health and safety, and not adversely affect the health and safety of yourself or others. This means workers must not carry out abusive online behaviours towards coworkers or other people at the workplace.  

You must also follow any reasonable instruction given by your PCBU to comply with a health and safety duty, such as following workplace policies for using social media, interactions online and the use of workplace technologies. 

 

Supporting Information

The eSafety website also has lots of tips for staying safe online: