Sometimes it's difficult to ignore a friend request from a
work colleague. Once you've accepted, should you block or
unfriend? A recent decision handed down by the Fair Work Commission
may cause you to rethink your next move.
In only the second official stop bullying order handed down by
the Fair Work Commission since the introduction of new anti
bullying laws in 2013, the Commission has held that unfriending
someone on Facebook was "belittling" and
"aggressive" and constituted unreasonable behaviour that
warranted a stop bullying order.
Ms Roberts, the applicant, was a real estate agent and had been
working with VIEW Launceston, a real estate franchise in Tasmania,
for approximately two years (strangely enough, the first official
stop bullying order handed down by the Commission also concerned
events which took place in a real estate agency). Mrs Bird, the
alleged bully, was a Sales Administrator and the wife of Mr Bird,
the Principal and Co-Director of VIEW.
Ms Roberts was able to prove unreasonable conduct on the part of
Mrs Bird, including Mrs Bird:
Belittling Ms Roberts when she told her she
wasn't allowed to sign for parcels
deliberating delaying the processing of administrative tasks
for Ms Roberts
deliberately attempting to damage the relationship between Ms
Roberts and a client
acknowledging others in the morning and delivering
photocopying and printing to them, but not to Ms
Mrs Bird also unfriended Ms Roberts on Facebook immediately
after a verbal confrontation between them, in which Mrs Bird told
Ms Roberts that her behaviour reminded her of "a school child
or girl going to the teacher to tell on the other child" (Ms
Roberts had complained to the director about Mrs Bird not
publicising Ms Roberts' sale properties). Deputy President
Wells, in reaching his finding that there was bullying as defined
under the Fair Work Act, commented that the unfriending by Mrs Bird
showed "a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of
So what has this case taught us? That unfriending someone on
Facebook could lead to you being branded as a workplace bully?
Well, probably not if that's the only thing you've done
to potentially upset the other person (after all, you can only
unfriend someone once, and bulling involves repeated behaviour and
risk of the behaviour happening again). However, if there has been
a history of incidents between you and the other person, and if the
person doing the unfriending is in a more senior or somehow
elevated position at work (such as being the wife of a director),
then unfriending someone could be interpreted as unreasonable
conduct, which may land you in hot water should you see yourself on
the receiving end of a stop bullying application.
The case also shows us that the Commission recognises the
importance of social media and the impact it can have on our
professional lives. For example, recently, a female barrister in
the UK lashed out against a male senior partner of a law firm, for
making a comment about her Linkedin profile picture and some have
commented that this was professional suicide on her part. These
cases demonstrate that now, more than ever, employers and employees
need to think about the impact of social media, whether it's
being used appropriately, and if not, what safeguards are in place
to deal with the fall out.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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