Fair Work rules deleting a colleague as a Facebook friend can be seen as bullying

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Business owners may need to re-examine their social media policies after the Fair Work Commission found one employee at a Tasmanian real estate agency unfriending another on the social network was evidence of bullying.

Rachael Roberts began working at View real estate in Launceston in 2012 as a property consultant and alleges she was bullied at work between November 2013 and January this year.

Roberts was certified as unfit for work by her doctor in February this year and has not returned to duties since then.

The former real estate agent told the Fair Work Commission she was unable to sleep and was depressed and highly anxious as a result of the alleged bullying that occurred at her workplace, which included an argument over whether or not she was able to sign off on postal deliveries.

Lisa Bird, a sales consultant at the business and the wife of the director of the business, denied the bullying allegations made against her by Roberts, saying she was not rude, aggressive or abrupt in her dealing with Roberts.

However, the commission heard a series of events culminated in a “heated” meeting between Roberts and Bird on January 29, which prompted Roberts to walk out of the office.

Roberts told the commission during the meeting Bird called her a “naughty little school girl running to the teacher” and accused her of undermining her authority.

This was allegedly because Roberts spoke to Bird’s husband the day before to ask why none of her listed properties were present in the front window of the business.

After the incident, Roberts checked Facebook to make sure Bird hadn’t made a comment about her online, only to find Bird had deleted her as a Facebook friend.

In her ruling, Fair Work Commission deputy president Nicole Wells said Bird deleting her Roberts as a Facebook friend showed “a lack of emotional maturity” and was “indicative of unreasonable behaviour”.

Because of this, along with a range of other evidence, the commission ruled Bird’s behaviour towards Roberts constituted bullying.

An anti-bullying order will be discussed with the two parties at a later date.

Anthony Massaro, principal at Russell Kennedy lawyers, told SmartCompany the Facebook unfriending was a “very small element” of the decision and was used to prove there was hostile behaviour in the workplace.

“The Facebook unfriending came up in the evidence as a thing which happened after that meeting,” Massaro says.

“While the commissioner described it as lacking in emotional maturity, I think that the commissioner was mainly using the Facebook unfriending to substantiate the finding that the conversation preceding it was hostile.”

Massaro says while the commission is yet to hand down its final orders, one thing working in View Launceston’s favour is the fact the business put in place an anti-bullying policy after the allegations were made.

“One thing which the employer did right in this case, once the claim had been made, was to implement an anti-bullying policy,” he says.

“That may play a part in limiting the scope of the orders to be made by the commission.”

SmartCompany contacted View Launceston but did not receive a response prior to publication. SmartCompany was unable to contact Rachael Roberts.

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