A recent decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) found that
an employee unfriending a co-worker on Facebook contributed to a
finding of workplace bullying, expanding the impact of
employees' social media conduct on employers once again.
This decision, particularly in the context of the proposed
introduction of the "dislike" button by Facebook,
emphasises the need for employers to ensure that appropriate
standards of conduct are upheld in the workplace and also on
employees' personal social media accounts where there is a link
to the employment relationship.
Ms Roberts, a property consultant, made 18 allegations of
bullying against her colleagues, Principal and Co-Director of VIEW,
James Bird, and Sales Administrator, Lisa Bird. The alleged
negative behaviour towards Ms Roberts led her to leave VIEW and
contributed to her being consequently diagnosed with depression and
The FWC upheld eight of the allegations, which included repeated
unreasonable behaviour towards Ms Roberts aimed at belittling and
humiliating her. The Commission also held that Ms Roberts'
reputation with clients was deliberately damaged, she was treated
differently to other employees and her time spent in the office was
often made miserable.
This decision is unique in that Ms Bird's action of
"unfriending" Ms Roberts on Facebook following an
argument, combined with the other incidents of poor behaviour,
contributed to the bullying finding. The FWC stated that the action
"evinces a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of
The FWC also found that if Ms Roberts had remained employed
there was a risk that the bullying would have continued and that,
despite VIEW introducing a new anti-bullying policy, Mr and Mrs
Bird demonstrated a lack of understanding about the nature of
bullying and its effects.
The FWC issued a stop bullying order to the VIEW workplace.
However, the specific details of the order are yet to be
How will this affect you?
This decision indicates that the behaviour of employees on their
personal social media accounts can affect the employment
relationship. It clearly demonstrates the need for businesses, both
large and small, to have an appropriate social media policy in
place that covers personal social media activities that could
affect the employment relationship.
The purpose of a social media policy is to educate workers on
the appropriate use of social media in conjunction with employment
and to set boundaries on the extent it can be used within a
workplace. These types of policies are most effective when
employees are regularly reminded of the policy and given the
opportunity to confidentially report potential breaches.
It is also necessary to highlight to employees that action taken
on social media can constitute bullying and/or harassment, even if
it occurs outside ordinary working hours.
The personal nature of social media platforms means that direct
monitoring by employers is difficult. However, as this case
demonstrates, senior employees and managers must be particularly
wary of the effects of their behaviour on social media.
Although the "unfriending" action was not the only
conduct that led to the finding of bullying, it does raise some
cause for concern regarding what this means for employers'
responsibilities in the growing social media space.
It is important for employers to be proactive to reduce conduct
on social media having an impact on the workplace. We
implementing a social media policy
updating your bullying and/or harassment policy to confirm that
action taken on social media can constitute inappropriate
ensuring employees and managers are aware of, and understand,
monitoring the workplace for compliance with the policy
taking action to address any breaches, and
if a dispute arises in the workplace—to encourage
employees to stop and think before taking any action on social
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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