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I have recently become aware that a co-worker is being harassed via anonymous Instagram messages. The harasser has cited in their direct messages that they do not like this person in the workplace, and has been sending messages to their ex-partner and a current partner of another staff member claiming that they have been having an affair and threatening to inform those around them at work that this is going on.

The victim, I and several others have a very strong suspicion as to who is sending these messages. They have noted on several occasions to multiple people that they do not like the person in question, and has also previously mentioned that this person is "sleeping around".

My thinking is that this is quite a serious offence and that something should be done, however the person in question has contacted HR which has prompted a company-wide email which makes no specific mention of the incident, rather directing people to the company Code of Conduct. Line managers have also been informed. I feel that this is not a strong enough action for somebody who is willing to do this, and could even bolster their confidence in not getting caught or investigated.

This person is willing to take other people's personal relationships into their own hands without any sort of evidence to back up their claims in order to justify some sort of work unpleasantness. That, I feel, should be punishable to some degree, or at least investigated further.

What is the correct course of action in this situation?

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    How do you know that HR isn't already doing some sort of investigation behind the scenes? – sf02 Dec 17 '19 at 15:41
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    "They said that if another message is received then they will start an investigation" If that is the case, then wait and see if another message is received. Maybe their initial email is enough to deter whoever was sending the messages. – sf02 Dec 17 '19 at 15:46
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    This sounds like a police/legal matter. Only the police/judge can subpoena more information from an anonymous Instagram account. How is the police force where you live? Is it any good? Maybe the person targeted should just consult a lawyer in their jurisdiction to see what their legal options are (and not wait for the employer to do something). – Stephan Branczyk Dec 17 '19 at 20:32
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    Were those messages sent during work hours? If so, there may be traces of the logs on that person's office computer (assuming they didn't use their phone). Having a lawyer may also help you apply pressure on the employer to inspect those logs or install monitoring software on the suspect's computer. In some jurisdictions, that's allowed legally. In some others, like Germany, that's not allowed. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 17 '19 at 20:40
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    Forget HR, this is a police matter – Mawg says reinstate Monica Dec 18 '19 at 8:25
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My thinking is that this is quite a serious offence and that something should be done, however the person in question has contacted HR which has prompted a company-wide email which makes no specific mention of the incident, rather directing people to the company Code of Conduct.

Very clever: maybe the bully is stupid enough to continue, and then there will be this email which very specifically mentions the behavior, so there is no "i did not know that this is a problem", which means no second chance.

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This doesn't seem like a workplace issue, in the sense that I don't see a strong reason for the employer to get more involved than the email HR already sent out. Unless the harasser used company equipment to send the messages.

The harasser may know the victim primarily from work, but it sounds like they are using their personal Instagram account to communicate with other employees via their own private Instagram accounts. If the harasser were spreading malicious rumors, in person, to other individuals outside of work, would that still be a workplace issue? From my reading of the question, even if the (suspected) harasser were fired that would not do anything to stop these messages.

It might be properly handled by the employer, but the connection to actual workplace issues would have to be pretty strong. Otherwise, this is more firmly in the wheelhouse of Instagram (the company), the local police, and legal actions (like cease-and-desist orders or restraining orders). It sounds to me more like a question of what should I do if my friend is being harassed on Instagram than anything about the workplace.

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  • Indeed, if the harasser is caught and fired it's quite possible that they will escalate, since they now have less to lose and more perceived "justification" for their grudge. Depending on jurisdiction, probably good to take it to the police sooner rather than later - even if they're not willing to act yet, it will create a record of this behaviour that may be useful. – Geoffrey Brent Dec 17 '19 at 22:05
  • Or if the message was sent during work hours (and hopefully not through a phone), IT could investigate and pinpoint the person in question. HR could confront them and make them sign a piece of paper telling them not to do it again, or they will lose their job. That, in my opinion, would be far more effective than just sending out a general email to everybody threatening to do the same thing. But of course, it all hinges on the timing of those messages, if those messages were sent from home, or from a phone, that's another story. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 17 '19 at 23:27
  • @StephanBranczyk That's a good point, I hadn't thought about the possibility that the harasser used company equipment to send the messages. That would be a different story, in terms of it being a problem for the employer to address. – Upper_Case Dec 18 '19 at 1:01
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Unless you personally are the target of these attacks, or a supervisor or HR or executive, your personal course of action is to take no further action, unfortunately. The target has reported the issue, and presumably the front-office people are taking action.

Please keep in mind that these situations are terrifying for front-office people. They expose companies and people to great liability and other trouble. So don't be too quick to judge how they handle it publicly. For example, don't judge them on their public email message. They aren't going to tell everybody about each action they take.

If these attacks make the workplace environment toxic enough that your own work is affected, then you, yourself, are a target of the attacks and can follow the reporting procedure in your company's code of conduct.

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