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Can unfriending a colleague count as bullying?

Social media has blurred the lines between work life and private life. Employees can now easily communicate and share with each other outside of work hours. While this has always been the case, with mobile phones it is more accessible and visible now through social media.

Roberts v VIEW Launceston Pty Ltd

A case in 2015 found that unfriending a fellow co-worker on Facebook can constitute an act of workplace bullying, according to the Fair Work Commission Workplace Tribunal. The case was heavily published in media around Australia and the rest of the world but left out a few key details of the claim (Roberts v VIEW Launceston Pty Ltd).

Ms Roberts was working at a real estate agency in Launceston, Tasmania, between 2012 and 2015. She alleged that she was being bullied by two people working at the agency during that time.

Some of the bullying experienced by her included:

  • Being spoken to in a belittling and humiliating manner
  • Having different rules enforced on her in regards to dress code and privacy
  • Holding back on completing jobs for the client which resulted in loss of efficiency and customers
  • One of the employees un-friended Ms Roberts on Facebook

She put together a submission for the Fair Work Commission to stop the bullying. This included a summary of events, witness statements and documentation of communication to support her claim of 18 separate instances of unreasonable behaviour while employed by the real estate agency. The documents advised of an alleged risk to Ms Robert’s health and safety and indicated a potential risk that Ms Roberts would continue to be bullied at work.

Eight of the 18 allegation made Ms Roberts were found to be workplace bullying by the tribunal. The judgment found that one out of the two defendants fulfilled the criteria for the Fair Work Act 2009 and therefore constituted bullying in the workplace.

Part of a series of events

While the tribunal found unfriending her on Facebook showed a "lack of emotional maturity" and was "indicative of unreasonable behaviour" it wasn’t just the single act of unfriending Ms Roberts on Facebook that constituted bullying in the workplace. It is a series of events of unreasonable behaviour towards a colleague or employee, only one of which was being removed from a friend list on Facebook.

A lot of Australian workers feel the pressure to accept a colleague’s friend request on social media platforms. Before accepting any requests, make sure you read your company’s social media policy and feel comfortable allowing a colleague access to your personal life and opening up that communication channel.

For more information of other forms of workplace bullying, read this blog post.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: June 17, 2016.

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