Is ‘unfriending on Facebook’ a form of workplace bullying?

Unfriending on Facebook

It is important for HR Practitioners to be aware of the inquiry into Australian Workplace Relations as changes put forward by the Productivity Commission could lead to changes in the Independent Contractors Act 2006 and Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA).Even such actions as unfriending on Facebook may be considered a contributor to a culture of workplace bullying.

For any behaviour to be considered workplace bullying, there must be a course of unreasonable action towards a worker which creates a risk to health and safety.

Recently the Fair Work Commission Tribunal found that ‘unfriending on Facebook’ as part of repeated unreasonable behaviours did constitute bullying (see 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))

In this case, Mrs Roberts, a real estate agent, alleged she had been bullied by Ms Bird, a sales administrator for VIEW Launceston Pty Ltd.

The tribunal found Ms Bird had shown ‘a lack of emotional maturity’ and through repeated acts of unreasonable behaviour, bullied Ms Roberts in the workplace.

Other examples of behaviour that contributed to this ‘course of unreasonable action’ and created a risk to health and safety included:

      • Name calling
      • Not saying good morning
      • Treating someone differently
      • Not following accepted processes/protocols which then created detriment for the target

Take away lessons from this case:

  • Your organisation must have a policy that addresses and aims to prevent bullying. However, on its own, having a policy will not assist in the formation of a substantial argument against a stop bullying order being made.
  • Let your staff know that sometimes conscious or unconscious acts that show favouritism can form patterns of unreasonable behaviour. For example making or ordering coffee for some staff but not others or assisting some staff in their work tasks but not others could be bullying.
  • Encourage staff not to form ‘Facebook friendships’ with colleagues because when workplace relationships turn sour (which we all know can happen), ‘unfriending on Facebook’ can create conflict and disharmony and could be considered unreasonable in view of other behaviours being exhibited.
  • Set a code of behaviour that expects all staff will greet each other appropriately each morning and say goodbye to each other in the afternoon. It is best if these salutations are left as general greetings to all in the office. But if staff wish to single out individuals to greet then they must also be prepared to give the same greeting individually to every staff member in the office.
  • Ensure that managers undergo sufficient conflict management training so they can see the warning signs of conflict before they get out of hand.

About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.