Harmful Digital Communications Act, what does it mean for Employers?

In July 2015, the Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA) came into effect.

With the rise in digital communications this act is about deterring, preventing and lessening harmful digital communications.  This includes cyber bullying and harassment through any form of electronic or online platform such as email, text messaging, websites, apps and social media.

Activity that is considered to be harmful digital communication and/or cyber bullying includes:

  • Sending, or publishing threatening or offensive material
  • Spreading damaging rumors
  • Sending, or publishing sensitive personal information

The HDCA sets includes the potential for criminal offence of causing harm by digital communication.  In its first year 154 people were charged and 22 prosecuted.  The Act also gives Netsafe civil powers to resolve what is considered lower level offending.   The reality is the scope for determining what is classed as harmful communication is wide and the focussed on the interpretation of the receiver or audience rather than intent.

Having clear guidelines around what is/isn't acceptable use of employer resources like computers, mobile phones and internet facilities along with expectations around use of social media are ways you can clarify expectations in the workplace.  One area we are seeing more rules being developed around is about what can/can't be posted in relation to work on social media.  This includes comments about others at work and posting images from work.  

Setting expectations can be done in employment agreements, staff handbooks and IT/social media policies.  At a practical level, setting an example top down and dealing with any problems around misuse will also help to mitigate risks and manage any behaviours that could be deemed as undesirable or in breach of obligations.

If you would like to review your practices or better clarify expectations with staff around their use of technology and devices contact a member of the Grow HR team.