The unfriending of a colleague on Facebook has been cited in a tribunal into workplace bullying. The act of unfriending was described as “indicative of unreasonable behaviour”, but was part of a wider pattern of workplace abuse.
Australia’s Fair Work Commission ruled that sales administrator Lisa Bird had bullied real estate agent Rachael Roberts after unfriending her from Facebook. The commission’s deputy president Nicole Wells said the act of unfriending showed a “lack of emotional maturity”.
Roberts alleged the bullying spanned a number of years and involved other claims of unfair treatment. However she revealed after one particularly heated disagreement, Bird unfriended her from Facebook — an act that she claimed left her feeling depressed and anxious.
But legal experts have been quick to point out that the Facebook unfriending only played a minor role in what was a much larger workplace bullying case. Josh Bornstein, a lawyer at the firm Maurice Blackburn, told ABC News, “The Fair Work Commission didn’t find that unfriending someone on Facebook constitutes workplace bullying.”
“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,” Blackburn explained.
The case raises questions around bullying both on and offline, particularly how these two spaces increasingly blur into each other.
In July 2014 the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications concluded that current laws are sufficient for dealing with offences committed on social media, but teaching people, organisations and legal authorities how to handle online bullying will take time.
And less seriously, the ruling might make some Facebook users think twice before they embark on a mass Facebook unfriending detox.