It is part of a wider bullying claim that also allegedly involved hostile behaviour and inappropriate comments. Rachael Roberts, a Launceston real estate agent, complained to the commission that she was bullied by her colleague Lisa Bird, leaving her with depression and anxiety. The Facebook incident took place in January this year, after Ms Bird allegedly called Ms Roberts a “naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher” during an aggressive meeting in the tea room.
Ms Roberts told the commission she left the office crying and when she later checked Facebook to see if Ms Bird had commented on Facebook about the incident, she found that Ms Bird had deleted her as a Facebook friend. Fair Work Commission deputy president Nicole Wells said in her decision that the unfriending was unreasonable behaviour and that Ms Roberts had been bullied at work. Josh Bornstein, from Maurice Blackburn lawyers, argues the Facebook unfriending is bullying but only because it happened in the context of several other incidents.
“The Fair Work Commission didn’t find that unfriending someone on Facebook constitutes workplace bullying,” he said. “What the Fair Work Commission did find is that a pattern of unreasonable behaviour, hostile behaviour, belittling behaviour over about a two-year period, which featured a range of different behaviours including berating, excluding and so on, constituted a workplace bullying. “Workplace bullying involves repeated incidents of unreasonable behaviour and what the Fair Work Commission had to do in this case was to look at 18 allegations of bullying, of unreasonable behaviour and decide whether they had occurred over a period of time.
“Some were made out and some weren’t, but what was clear from the decision was, there was a range of unreasonable treatment meted out to the employee over a long period of time which damaged her health.” Bullying expert Oscar Yildiz said the Fair Work Commission has set a dangerous precedent, and Ms Bird’s actions on social media did not constitute a personal attack. “In this case, what is the future threat? That this person has unfriended someone on Facebook? Well, big deal,” Mr Yildiz said.
“As far as I’m concerned that doesn’t constitute bullying and it shouldn’t. If it does, what the commission has done here is set precedent.” Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Michael Bailey said the case illustrates the need for companies to have clear social media policies.
“We find in Tasmania that our industrial relations staff spend a great majority of their time working through these sorts of instances where social media has been used as a way of essentially bullying either staff or co-workers,” he said. Mr Bailey said people need to remember what they say on social media is given the same weight as talking face to face or over the phone. Source: www.workforceguardian.com.au
This article appeared in our November 2016 newsletter.