Australia: Social media and bullying in the workplace: To friend or not to friend, that is the question!

Key Points:

A recent decision of the Fair Work Commission is widely reported to have found that deleting a colleague on Facebook will constitute bullying under federal workplace relations legislation, but is that correct?

The intense media scrutiny surrounding the findings of Deputy President Wells in Mrs Rachael Roberts v VIEW Launceston Pty Ltd as trustee for the VIEW Launceston Unit Trust T/A View Launceston; Ms Lisa Bird; Mr James Bird [2015] FWC 6556 (23 September 2015) has heavily focused upon the notion that the mere act of deleting a work colleague on social media will constitute bullying for the purposes of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

However, to quote the seminal hip hop group Public Enemy, don't believe the hype.

Although bullying was found to have occurred in this instance, the act of "unfriending" or blocking a colleague on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other such social media sites is highly unlikely, of itself, to lead to a finding of bullying. There will almost always need to be, as there was in this case, other circumstances which support a finding that an employee has been subjected to bullying in the workplace.

What can an employee do to stop bullying?

An employee who reasonably believes that he or she has been bullied at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop bullying pursuant to sections 789FC and 789FF of the Fair Work Act.

When is an employee bullied at work?

Workplace bullying is defined in section 789FD(1) of the FW Act.

Bullying is constituted by repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards an individual worker or a group of workers (who work at a constitutionally-covered business) which gives rise to a risk to health and safety.

The Fair Work Act does not specifically outline the types of behaviours that will constitute bullying, but the behaviour must be unreasonable (including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening) and must also be ongoing and persistent.

Any conduct that is considered reasonable management action, that is carried out in a reasonable manner, will not constitute bullying for the purposes of the Fair Work Act (section 789FD(2)).

The bullying conduct alleged by Ms Roberts

Ms Rachel Roberts was a real estate agent in Tasmania.

In 2010, Ms Roberts commenced employment with View Launceston Pty Ltd, a real estate franchise. In February 2015, Ms Roberts alleged that two of her colleagues, Mr James Bird (the Principal and Co-director of View) and his wife Mrs Lisa Bird (the sales administrator) had bullied her at work. The alleged bullying conduct included:

  • belittling and humiliating Ms Roberts in front of an Australia Post employee by telling her she wasn't permitted to sign for deliveries;
  • refusing to let Ms Roberts adjust the temperature setting on the air conditioning unit;
  • treating Ms Roberts differently by requiring her to wear the full work uniform while other employees were allowed to wear other clothing;
  • taking nine days to process Ms Roberts' paperwork for a property listing when it should have taken less than one day;
  • refusing to let Ms Roberts take her laptop home or bring her personal computer to work;
  • acting in unreasonable manner by directing clients away from Ms Roberts to another employee;
  • refusing to undertake a change to an online listing which Ms Roberts had requested which resulted in the loss of Ms Roberts' property listing;
  • insinuating that Ms Roberts did not "live in a nice area" by referring to a property next door to Ms Roberts' residence in a negative manner;
  • treating Ms Roberts differently by not acknowledging her in the morning and delivering photocopying or printing to other employees but not to Ms Roberts;
  • calling Ms Roberts a "naughty little school girl running to the teacher"; and
  • acting in a hostile and aggressive manner towards Ms Roberts after she confronted Mrs Bird about not getting a fair representation of her property listings displayed in the front window of the premises, following which Mrs Bird deleted Ms Roberts as a friend on Facebook.

Ms Roberts subsequently filed an application with the Fair Work Commission seeking orders to stop bullying. The application alleged that she had suffered 18 separate incidents of bullying in the workplace.

Ms Roberts presented evidence that the unreasonable behaviour she had been exposed to at work had caused her deep anxiety and depression, resulting in the need for her to consult and seek treatment from a psychologist.

At the time of submitting her application, View did not have an anti-bullying policy in place (although a policy and reference manual was implemented following Ms Roberts' application with the Commission).

Unfriending in an unfriendly workplace can be bullying

Deputy President Wells ruled in favour of Ms Roberts, finding that eight of the allegations she had raised had been substantiated.

DP Wells concluded that Ms Roberts had been "subjected to on more than one occasion...behaviour that was unreasonable" and behaviour which "was repeated over an extended period of time".

DP Wells acknowledged that View had taken steps to address the issue by implementing an anti-bullying policy. However, the fact that an anti-bullying policy had been introduced did not sway the Commission's decision. DP Wells held that there was a continuing risk of Ms Roberts being bullied at work as Mrs Bird and View did not consider that any of the behaviour complained of, including the act of deleting Ms Roberts on Facebook, constituted bullying.

In regards to the incident in which Ms Roberts' profile was "unfriended" on Facebook, DP Wells held that such conduct "evinces a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative or unreasonable behaviour". DP Wells examined the circumstances surrounding the relationship between Mrs Bird and Ms Roberts, and concluded that Mrs Bird's decision to "unfriend" Ms Roberts on Facebook was done with the intention of drawing "a line under the relationship as she [Mrs Bird] did not like Ms Roberts and would prefer not to have to deal with her". DP Wells considered the act of "unfriending" a colleague on Facebook in these specific circumstances to be an example of unreasonable behaviour. This act, when combined with other conduct such as calling Ms Roberts "a little school girl" and treating Ms Roberts differently to other employees, justified the making of an order to stop bullying.

How employers should deal with (anti)social media

This case serves as a helpful reminder of the importance of implementing a comprehensive anti-bullying policy in the workplace, and of the need to appropriately address employee conduct on social media in such policies in order to reduce the risk of exposure to bullying claims.

An anti-bullying policy that is introduced after bullying conduct has occurred is too little, too late. The legislation compels employers to take an active approach to this issue, and to use the implementation of a policy as the catalyst for cultural change.

This case also serves as a reminder of the issues associated with the use of social media for the workplace. Although the act of "unfriending" a colleague on Facebook will not automatically amount to bullying, the Commission's findings suggest that employee conduct on social media can be taken into account and may, in certain circumstances, amount to unreasonable conduct.

As the boundaries between work and private life become increasingly blurred, it is imperative that employees strive to maintain a balance between personal and professional use of social media. While it may seem that connecting online with your colleagues is a natural and risk-free proposition, and a decision to friend or unfriend a colleague is an entirely personal prerogative, that is not necessarily the case. As this decision clearly illustrates, the use of Facebook (or other social media) can lead to serious consequences if the relationship turns sour. For some individuals, being "unfriended" or blocked on social media can be viewed as an act of hostility and aggression, akin to refusing to let your colleague sit with you on your lunch break or join you for work drinks. It may even be seen as a litmus test of how an employee is being treated generally by colleagues.

As such, even though the media reports about the FWC purporting to closely regulate personal online connections are a melodramatic overreach, it is still important for employers to be aware of how interaction between colleagues on social media can go wrong. In this regard, it is prudent for employees to address the risk of bullying on social media, in a consistent way, in both bullying and social media policies.

You might also be interested in...

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.