To friend or not to friend - that is the question

30/10/2015

Scared that “unfriending” or rejecting a request of a work colleague on social media will put you at risk of a bullying claim?  Don’t be.  A recent FWC case demonstrates that it’s a little more complicated than that. 

A property consultant, employed by a real estate franchise, filed an application with the FWC seeking orders to stop bullying after she allegedly suffered 18 separate incidents of bullying, resulting in a diagnosis of depression and anxiety. 

The main incident occurred at a meeting between the consultant and the sales administrator about the reasons for not displaying her properties in the window. The administrator called her “a naughty little school girl running to a teacher” and deleted her off Facebook immediately after the incident. 

Other alleged bullying conduct included deliberately delaying her property listings, belittling and humiliating her and directing clients away from her. 

At the time of submitting her application, the company did not have an anti-bullying policy in place but implemented a policy and reference manual once the application was made.

DP Wells ruled in favour of the property consultant, concluding that the sales administrator’s actions were indicative of unreasonable behaviour and done with the intention of drawing “a line under the relationship”. 

Although DP Wells acknowledged that the company had taken steps to address the issue, she held that there was a continuing risk of being bullied at work as the company and the sales administrator did not consider that any of the behaviour constituted bullying. As such, an order to stop bullying was made. 

Although bullying was found to have occurred in this case, the act of “unfriending” or blocking a colleague on social media, on its own, does not automatically constitute bullying. It may be considered an example of unreasonable behaviour, which when combined with other repeated and unreasonable behaviour, constitutes workplace bullying. 

This case demonstrates that now, more than ever, employers need to think about the impact of social media in the workplace, whether it’s being used appropriately, and what safeguards are in place to regulate social media usage. 

In order to reduce the risk of exposure to bullying claims, employers should implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies, which appropriately address employee conduct on social media.

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