Does unfriending a colleague on Facebook constitute bullying?
The answer, according to the Industrial Commission’s latest ruling is emphatically yes.
Unfriending a colleague or employee on Facebook and even not saying good morning could constitute workplace bullying, the workplace tribunal has found.
Rachael Roberts, an employee of 10 years’ standing in the real estate industry, and an employee at View Estate Agency in Launceston since 2012, was found to have been bullied by sale administrator, Lisa Bird, wife of agency principal James Bird, when she unfriended Ms Roberts on Facebook and stopped saying “good morning”.
Ms Roberts said when she complained to the agency principal that she was not getting a fair representation of her properties displayed in the front window of the agency, Mrs Bird called a meeting.
Ms Roberts told the Tribunal that Mrs Bird accused her during the meeting of undermining, and called her a “naughty schoolgirl running to the teacher”.
Ms Roberts left the meeting in tears, and said she checked Facebook minutes afterwards to see if Mrs Bird had posted any comments about the incident, however found Mrs Bird had deleted her as a Facebook friend.
Nicole Wells, Tasmanian Industrial Commission Deputy President found that Mrs Bird’s decision to unfriend Ms Roberts after an argument was “unreasonable”, showed a “lack of emotional maturity” and that she wanted to “draw a line under the relationship”.
Ms Wells also determined that calling Ms Roberts a “school girl” was “provocative and disobliging”.
Ms Roberts claimed that Mrs Bird acted aggressively to belittle her and would treat her differently to other staff, by not acknowledging Ms Roberts in the morning, or delivering photocopying and printing to other employees but not Ms Roberts.
The trouble began when Ms Roberts lost a sale, despite the Commission finding the responsibility lay with Mrs Bird.
Ms Roberts had asked Mrs Bird to carry out a rental appraisal urgently, however, Mrs Bird sent the appraisal by letter, instead of via email, which was the normal office procedure, losing the deal.
Ms Roberts has subsequently suffered and has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and requires medication and treatment from a psychologist.
As a result, Ms Wells found that Mrs Bird’s behavior posed a real risk to Ms Roberts’ health and safety.
The Tribunal rejected the employer’s argument that an anti-bullying policy and manual had been implemented since the incidents and there was little to no risk of bullying occurring in the future.
As a result of the ruling Ms Roberts and her employer are required to attend a compulsory conference to discuss what sort of anti-bullying Orders should be made.
Although the claim was brought under the bullying provisions of the Fair Work Act, which allows the Tribunal to make orders to “stop bullying at work”, the powers of the Tribunal do not extend to awarding the employee compensation.
For employment advice in this area, McLaughlins Lawyers on the Gold Coast can assist employers with respect to their rights and obligations under their Employee Agreements and at law with respect to workplace bullying and related issues.
Author: Joshua Rath
Partner: Ian Kennedy