Can Unfriending someone on Facebook be considered Workplace Bullying?

You may have recently heard on the news about a recent Fair Work Commission case which found that “unfriending” someone from Facebook can constitute workplace bullying. But first, we thought we’d clarify a few things because the law is not always clear cut…

In the Fair Work Commission (FWC) matter of Roberts v Bird & Anor [2015] FWC 6556, the Commission found that the Applicant, Ms Rachael Roberts was bullied in the workplace by Mrs Lisa Bird, one of the Respondents. One incident which contributed to the finding of bullying was when Mrs Bird deleted Ms Roberts from Facebook after a meeting became a heated argument.

The FWC Deputy President Wells found that:

“This action by Mrs Bird evinces a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behaviour, the likes of which I have already made findings on…I am of the view that Mrs Bird took the first opportunity to draw a line under the relationship with Ms Roberts on 29 January 2015, when she removed her as a friend on Facebook as she did not like Ms Roberts and would prefer not to have to deal with her.”

But before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s important to consider the law. According to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) s 789FD, a worker is bullied at work if another individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

This means that:

  • The behaviour must be unreasonable in the circumstances
  • Unreasonable behaviour must occur more than once, and
  • There is a risk to health a safety.

In this matter, there was an array of unreasonable behaviour by Mrs Bird towards Ms Roberts which contributed to the finding that there was indeed bullying conduct. This included belittling and humiliating Ms Roberts, unprofessional conduct in the workplace by Mrs Bird in relation to Ms Roberts’ work, damaging Ms Robert’s reputation with her client, treating Ms Robert differently to other employees, among other things.

According to the Fair Work Act, although actual damage to health and safety does not need to be proved, only risk to health and safety, Ms Roberts stated that Mrs Bird’s behaviour led her to being unable to sleep, being depressed and highly anxious. Ms Roberts eventually required medical prescriptions from her general practitioner and treatment from a psychologist.

So, what can we take from this? Depending on the circumstances, deleting someone from your Facebook friends can indeed contribute to one of the factors of workplace bullying behaviour. But there has to be repeated unreasonable behaviour not just a one time action of deleting someone from a social networking website and there needs to be a risk to health and safety.

In other circumstances and unlike what the media would have led you to believe, there’s nothing to stop you from deleting someone from Facebook if it is reasonable.

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