Facebook unfriending constitutes 'bullying', says workplace tribunal
Unfriending employees on Facebook and not saying good morning could constitute workplace bullying, the workplace tribunal has found.
Rachael Roberts was a real estate agent with 10 years' industry experience. Since November 2012, she has been working at Tasmanian real estate agency VIEW Launceston.
Ms Roberts went to the Fair Work Commission alleging she had been bullied by her employer, mainly in her interactions with Lisa Bird, the sales administrator and the wife of the agency's principal.
Ms Roberts said when she complained to the agency principal James Bird that she was not getting a fair representation of her properties displayed in the front window of the agency, Mrs Bird called a meeting and accused her of being a "naughty little school girl running to the teacher".
Later that day, Ms Roberts found that Mrs Bird had deleted her as a Facebook friend.
The tribunal found unfriending her on Facebook showed a "lack of emotional maturity" and was "indicative of unreasonable behaviour".
"Mrs Bird took the first opportunity to draw a line under the relationship with Ms Roberts ... when she removed her as a friend on Facebook as she did not like Ms Roberts and would prefer not to have to deal with her," commission deputy president Nicole Wells said.
Calling her a "school girl" was "provocative and disobliging", the tribunal said.
Say good morning
The tribunal also found that Mrs Bird acted unreasonably when she did not acknowledge Ms Roberts in the morning and delivered photocopying and printing to other employees but not Ms Roberts.
On another occasion, Ms Roberts asked Mrs Bird to carry out a rental appraisal urgently. However, Mrs Bird sent the appraisal by letter instead of email, which was the normal procedure.
As a result, Ms Roberts lost the deal. The tribunal found Mrs Bird's action in not following usual procedure and mailing the rental appraisal to the client, when she knew it was urgent, was unreasonable behaviour.
Ms Roberts was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and received medication and treatment from a psychologist. Ms Wells found this showed Mrs Bird's behaviour posed a risk to the employee's health and safety.
The tribunal rejected the employer's argument that an anti-bullying policy and manual had been written since the incidents and there was no risk of bullying occurring in the future.
Ms Roberts and the employer will have a conference to discuss what sort of anti-bullying order should be made.
The claim was brought under the controversial bullying provisions of the Fair Work Act, which allows the tribunal to make orders to "stop bullying at work" but does not allow it to award compensation.
This is a copy of an article published by smh.com.au on 25 September 2015.
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