Australian workers should be aware that ‘unfriending’ a colleague on Facebook can amount to workplace bullying, according to the Fair Work Commission.
The decision was made after a case involving Tasmanian real estate agent Rachael Roberts, who claimed she was bullied and humiliated by sales administrator Lisa Bird during a number of incidents.
It all started because of a disagreement over who was to blame for a lost sale, after which Ms Bird started refusing to say ‘Good morning’ to Ms Roberts, and then she unfriended her on Facebook.
The Fair Work Commission said Ms Bird had behaved in an “unreasonable” manner, and showed a “lack of emotional maturity” by unfriending her colleague on the social media platform.
“Ms Bird took the first opportunity to draw a line under the relationship with Ms Roberts… when she removed her as a friend on Facebook as she did not like Ms Roberts and would prefer to not have to deal with her,” Fair Work Commission deputy president Nicole Wells said.
Ms Bird was also accused of calling Ms Roberts a “naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher” after she complained to the boss, Ms Bird’s husband James, about not having her properties displayed in the front window of the agency.
Ms Roberts was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was prescribed medication, and was deemed by a psychologist to be unfit to return to work until the dispute had been resolved.
The Commission ruled that this was evidence that Ms Bird’s behaviour posed a risk to the employee’s health and safety, and therefore constituted workplace bullying.
The Launceston-based agency argued that it had since introduced an anti-bullying policy, removing any risk of future such incidents.
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at Discrimination Claims, said social media can be a dangerous minefield for employers and employees.
“The best thing to do is to keep your social media very separate from your work life,” he said.
“People have lost their jobs based on what they have posted on their Facebook or Instagram accounts, and now it seems you can get in trouble for simply ‘unfriending’ someone.
“Make no mistake, your boss is watching your social media, so you should make sure your privacy settings are locked down securely, so only your close family and friends can get access to your profiles, and never ever comment about your workmates or your company online – it will only end in tears for you.”
The Fair Work Act does not allow the Commission to award compensation in these sorts of cases. but it did make an order for the bullying behaviour against Ms Roberts to stop.
If you have been sacked or are facing disciplinary action for social media use, you need to seek urgent expert advice. Please call our friendly staff at Discrimination Claims on 1300 853 837 for a confidential chat about your options.