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The impact of electronic communication has revolutionized the workplace. Through portable devices, employees and supervisors are now able to communicate more efficiently, resulting in increased productivity. However, because electronic communication is more casual and does not involve the immediate reaction as in a face-to-face conversation, some individuals may have a false sense of anonymity and tend to let down their guards, conveying information that could place them in trouble.
"Textual Harassment," which involves the sending of offensive or other inappropriate text messages and "Sexting," which involves the sending of sexually explicit messages, photographs or videos to others or posting them on social networking sites are on the rise. This misuse of electronic communication may constitute unlawful employment conduct and has been the basis of several recent lawsuits across the country, alleging unlawful harassment from supervisors or the creation of a hostile work environment by co-workers who exchange inappropriate messages that others find offensive.
Information communicated using County-issued devices such as a Blackberry, computer or cell phones is subject to Florida public records law (Florida Statutes 119). Some employees might mistakenly think that if they use their personal electronic devices, they can avoid being detected; however, an offended co-worker or subordinate can produce evidence of inappropriate and offensive material, which is more difficult to dispute than offensive speech.
Anyone who commits this offense may be in violation of Miami-Dade County's policies against unlawful harassment and sexual harassment and also Miami-Dade County Administrative Order 5-5 , which prohibits the distribution of messages that are abusive, threatening, pornographic or sexually explicit or to convey hate messages or images; and messages, images or sounds that are offensive to a reasonable person because they contain lewd images, language or comments of an inappropriate personal nature or are intended to harass or annoy.
Employees are reminded that Miami-Dade County Administrative Order 7-37 prohibits all forms of discrimination, including harassment, on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, retaliation, age, disability, ancestry, marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation or the exercise of constitutional or statutory rights and Miami-Dade County Administrative Order 7-28 prohibits sexual harassment. Textual harassment will be handled in the same manner as any other forms of unlawful harassment.
An employee who believes that he/she has been the victim of unlawful harassment should contact the Office of Human Rights and Fair Employment Practices or the Fair Employment Practices Liaison (FEPL) in his/her department. The FEPL or the Fair Employment Practices Specialist should also advise the complainant of other avenues for filing discrimination complaints, including the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the State of Florida Commission on Human Relations. A determination will be made as to whether a violation has occurred.
If violations are found to have occurred, the Director of the Office of Human Rights and Fair Employment Practices will make recommendations to the Director of the complainant's department for prompt corrective action.
Unlawful harassment, regardless of the media used to communicate it wil not be tolerated. Violators will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
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