Is unfriending someone bullying?
In 2010, Ms Roberts started work with View Launceston Pty Ltd as a real estate agent. After an initial period of employment, Ms Roberts made 18 allegations of bullying against colleagues, the 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 anxiety. The alleged behaviour included:
- belittling and humiliating her in front of an Australia Post employee by telling her she wasn't permitted to sign for deliveries
- refusing to let her adjust the temperature setting on the air conditioning unit
- treating her differently by requiring her to wear the full work uniform while other employees were allowed to wear other clothing
- taking nine days to process her paperwork for a property listing when it should have taken less than one day
- refusing to let her take her laptop home or bring her personal computer to work
- acting in unreasonable manner by directing clients away from her and towards another employee
- refusing to undertake a change to an online listing which she had requested, and which resulted in the loss of her property listing
- insinuating that she did not "live in a nice area" by referring to a property next door to her residence in a negative manner
- treating her differently by not acknowledging her in the morning, and delivering photocopying or printing to other employees but not to her
- calling her a "naughty little school girl running to the teacher"; and
- acting in a hostile and aggressive manner towards her 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 her as a friend on Facebook.
View did not have a workplace bullying policy in place. Ms Roberts alleged that, as a result of the bullying, she suffered anxiety and depression, and was being treated by a psychologist. She filed an application in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) seeking orders that the bullying cease.
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 she had been "subjected to on more than one occasion…behaviour that was unreasonable" and behaviour which "was repeated over an extended period of time".
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 Ms Roberts' being "unfriended" by Mrs Bird 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 the two women, 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 her differently to other employees, justified the making of an order to stop bullying.
Read the full case decision here.
CCIQ View Point
This case demonstrates the importance of implementing a workplace bullying policy and training all employees to comply with it. It also highlights the importance of engaging in appropriate conduct with work colleagues on social media.
Although the act of "unfriending" a work colleague on Facebook will not amount to bullying in every instance, it may amount to bullying when the conduct towards an employee is considered in its entirety.
If you want more information about workplace bullying, or you need help minimising your risk in this area, contact CCIQ’s Employer Assistance Team on 1300 791 988 or email at email@example.com.