Unfriending on Facebook is workplace ‘bullying’

We've all done it: We see one too many Facebook posts... and we reach for the "Unfriend" button. What's the impact of all that unfriending?

Employers in Australia will be scrambling to update their social media policies after a decision by the workplace tribunal found unfriending someone on Facebook can constitute workplace bullying.

Rachael Roberts, an employee of real estate agency VIEW Launceston, went to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in February this year alleging she was being bullied by sales administrator Lisa Bird and her husband James, the business owner.

Ms Roberts, a real estate agent for more than 10 years who joined the company in 2012, cited nearly 20 run-ins, primarily with Mrs Bird, in which she claimed she was “belittled and humiliated”.

In one incident, she alleged Mrs Bird called her a “naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher” after Ms Roberts had phoned Mr Bird to ask why none of her listed properties were displayed in the front window of the business.


After the meeting, Ms Roberts said Mrs Bird had pointed at her, told her to sit down when she had tried to leave the meeting and stood in front of the door.

Sitting in her car in a “very distressed state” after the meeting, Ms Roberts said it occurred to her that Mrs Bird might make a Facebook comment about the incident — but when she went to check, she found she had been unfriended.

“This action by Mrs Bird evinces a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behaviour, the likes of which I have already made findings on,” FWC deputy president Nicole Wells found.

“The ‘schoolgirl’ comment, even accepting of Mrs Bird’s version of events, which I am not, is evidence of an inappropriate dealing with Ms Roberts which was provocative and disobliging.

“I am of the view that Mrs Bird took the first opportunity to draw a line under the relationship with Ms Roberts on 29 January 2015, 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.”


Ms Roberts also claimed she was treated differently to other employees in that Mrs Bird would not acknowledge her in the morning and would deliver other people’s photocopying or printing to them, but not to Ms Roberts.

The Commission agreed with Ms Roberts that the behaviour was unreasonable.

Ms Roberts had also claimed she was not allowed to adjust the temperature setting on the air conditioning unit while other employees were, and that she was required to wear an ill-fitting work uniform even when others were not, however the FWC struck down these allegations.

In all, nine of her 18 alleged incidents of bullying were upheld by the Commission, which issued an order to stop bullying.

She said the alleged behaviour, which occurred between November 2013 and January 2015, resulted in her being unable to sleep, depressed and highly anxious, requiring medication from her GP and psychologist.


“I am satisfied the behaviour carried out by Mrs Bird fulfils the prerequisite criteria of [of the Act] and therefore constitutes bullying at work of Ms Roberts,” Ms Wells said.

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