Facebook Unfriending By Work Colleague Deemed As ‘Bullying’ According To Tribunal

A Fair Work Commission in Australia has ruled that the unfriending of a woman on Facebook by her work colleague constituted bullying, reports ABC.

Rachel Roberts, a real estate agent with 10 years’ experience in the industry, made the claim of workplace bullying against Lisa Bird after a series of hostile incidents that culminated with the dreaded “unfriending.”

After a confrontational exchange in the tea room, during which Mrs. Bird allegedly mocked Ms. Roberts for complaining to her boss, Mrs. Bird’s husband, apparently describing her as a “naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher,” Ms. Roberts left the office in tears.

Ms. Roberts then checked on Facebook to see whether Mrs. Bird had left any comments about the encounter on Facebook, and she saw that Mrs. Bird had unfriended her.

Social media is increasingly becoming a factor in employment disputes
Social media is increasingly becoming a factor in employment disputes

The Fair Work Commissioner, Nicole Wells, ruled that Bird had behaved unreasonably, demonstrated a “lack of emotional maturity”and descried Bird’s reference to Roberts as a “schoolgirl” as “provocative and disobliging.”

The claim was brought under the bullying provisions of the Fair Work Act, which empowers the Fair Work Commission to make orders to “stop bullying at work,” but fall short of permitting the tribunal to make awards of compensation.

The Tribunal was also told of how Roberts asked Bird to perform a rental appraisal urgently, but Bird sent the appraisal by letter instead of according to usual procedure, which would have been by email. As a result, Roberts lost the deal.

The tribunal deemed Mrs. Bird’s action in not following usual procedure, was unreasonable behavior.

Speaking to Human Capital, Alan McDonald, managing director of McDonald Murhome, an employment law firm based in Melbourne, said that Tasmania was taking a lead in protecting employees at the workplace.

“The decision of Deputy President Wells demonstrates leadership in helping Australia become a 21st-century employer there is no better way of doing this than upholding standards of respect and good governance in the workplace. Deputy President Wells protected a long-standing employee against bullying and childish taunts from a small business employer. Employees must obey the lawful commands of employers but as Deputy President Wells makes clear, that is not to lead an employee to be abusive or insulting.”

Michael Bailey, chief executive of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also said the case showed the need for companies to have clear social media policies.

“We find in Tasmania that our industrial relations staff spend a great majority of their time working through these sorts of instances where social media has been used as a way of essentially bullying either staff or co-workers.”

[Image: Chris Jackson/Getty Images]