In addition to connecting with friends, Facebook is used for connecting with colleagues, but could un-friending a co-worker on Facebook constitute workplace bullying? The Australian Fair Work Commission (FWC) says it could definitely be a factor.
An incident of un-friending
Last Wednesday, Deputy President Nicole Wells of FWC ruled that a Tasmanian woman was bullied by a colleague who un-friended her on Facebook. They had a confrontation before that.
Rachel Roberts, a real estate agent, brought 18 allegations of harassment and unreasonable behavior against her co-worker Lisa Bird. Bird has been accused of purposely delaying administrative work, damaging Roberts’ reputation with clients and treating her unfavorably in comparison to other colleagues.
Wells stated that eight of the allegations were substantiated, and the continued misbehavior of Bird resulted in a risk of health and safety for Roberts, who had to seek psychological treatment for the work-related stress. In her decision, Wells said, “This action by Mrs. Bird evinces a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behavior, the likes of which I have already made findings on.”
Un-friending was just one action, but it did help demonstrate the “lack of emotional maturity” involved with the harassment. Therefore, the victim has now received an order to stop the bullying that triggered Roberts’ anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders.
Be careful when you unfriend on Facebook
The ruling does not in any way mean that un-friending a colleague automatically constitutes bullying, but it does help prove a pattern of unreasonable and hostile behaviors. Ted Geiger, a New York attorney specializing in civil litigation, told CNBC that for substantiating a harassment claim, actions taken on social media, especially cyber bullying, could certainly be used based on a hostile work environment.
The decision taken in this case is a one-time decision, and though un-friending is the headline, since the decision was based on a number of actions that took place over a two year time period, Geiger thinks un-friending will not become the sole basis for liability anytime soon.
It is very doubtful that a person will get to see cases that lean primarily on un-friending as evidence. It is possible that the act may prove more important in legal disputes down the road as it presents a strong sign that one person has fallen out of favor with another. After this ruling, there are chances that fellow staffers become more reluctant in accepting friend requests on Facebook, fearing any online connections could work against them down the line.