Does Unfriending A Co-Worker Amount To Bullying?
It’s happened to many of us – the work party you are not invited to, the sudden silence when you walk up to a group of co-workers at the staff canteen, the group chatting at the staff kitchen that breaks up as soon as you enter.
Well now there is a new hi-tech way to snub a co-worker and the Fair Work Commission has recently ruled it can amount to bullying. It is ‘unfriending’ – the act of hitting a button on a Facebook account to delete a person who had been accepted on Facebook as a friend.
The unusual case centred on a woman who worked in a Tasmanian real estate agency office. She claimed that she had been constantly belittled and humiliated by a woman co-worker and her husband who owned the business. She went to the Fair Work Commission and cited 20 incidents of bullying over three years she worked there. After one row ended with the woman leaving the office in tears, she checked her co-worker’s Facebook page to find she had been ‘unfriended’.
The woman said the bullying caused her anxiety and depression that required medication.
Fair Work Commissioner Nicole Wells felt the unfriending did amount to “unreasonable behaviour” and it was one of nine complaints upheld by the commission. Another included the co-worker never saying good morning to the woman while she said it to everyone else in the office. When she complained her listed properties were the only ones not displayed in the agency window the co-worker accused her of being “a naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher”.
The Commissioner said the acts, including the unfriending on Facebook, constituted bullying in the workplace and ordered the firm to ensure the bullying stopped.
Stacks Law Firm workplace law specialist Nathan Luke said the case is an interesting development, but it is important to note the unfriending was one of many acts in the workplace that were ruled to constitute bullying.
“Unfriending by a co-worker on its own can’t be accepted as bullying in the workplace, but if it is part of a pattern of behaviour aimed at one individual in the workplace then it could be included in a complaint of bullying or unreasonable treatment,” Mr Luke said.
“Workers who feel they have been unfairly targeted or bullied in the workplace should seek expert legal advice, but it will need to be more than just unfriending.
“Similarly, employers who are concerned behaviour in their workplace could constitute bullying and end in legal action should get expert legal advice to help set up procedures to avert a problem.”