Work WhatsApp groups can be very good and create an informal environment to share ideas and valuable information quickly, but their use can carry some risk with employees often seeing this as a grey area where the normal rules of work do not apply.

If you receive a complaint of bullying on the works’ WhatsApp group, then you should acknowledge this and take it into deliberation. Regardless of whether you feel the complaint is minor or not you should carry out a full investigation and ask for examples of the messages that were sent. This evidence may be easier to obtain if you are in the group as a moderator to keep track of anything that is shared.

The investigation should include the alleged bully, and they should be asked about the messages that have been sent. At this stage, you are still gathering information, and this is not a disciplinary hearing. In this situation, the individual may try to claim that you have no authority to act for messages that were sent on a private platform outside of working hours. However, you should reiterate that as the group was set up for work-related discussions then they are within their rights to act. It will also help matters if this is supported by an appropriate workplace policy which regulates social media activity.

If, after the investigation, you find there is a case to answer, then you should bring about normal disciplinary procedures.

After you have acted you should hold a meeting with all staff and confirm the expectations placed upon them when it comes to conduct on WhatsApp and other forms of social media.  To avoid incidents like this from occurring again you could choose to ban any discussions on this group that aren’t solely related to work, therefore preventing any well-intended jokes getting out of hand or being misinterpreted.

WhatsApp and other social messaging platforms are an example of how technology has blurred the lines between work and home, creating a debate around the scope employers must discipline staff that behaves inappropriately. However, as the group in question is set up for the purposes of work, your client has a duty to protect staff from bullying and other forms of abuse and should endeavour to take appropriate action.