Thinking of “unfriending” a colleague on Facebook?
If you’re in Australia, or the next time you are based on it, think twice before unfriending a colleague or an acquaintance from work on Facebook.
Or maybe, don’t even think of doing it at all. Why?
Australian court rules have recently stated that unfriending a colleague from Facebook is bullying.
Yes, you heard it right. You could be accused or be guilty of bullying just by doing it. Will it ever make sense?
The Roberts and Bird case
This one-of-a-kind situation came up between Rachael Roberts and Lisa Bird, two women working for a real estate agent’s office. These two had a quarrel, with immature remarks given to each other like school girls throwing each other names.
According to Roberts, Bird called her a “naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher.” This is after Roberts had complained to her boss about the latter. An outbreak of continuous disagreements eventually followed, resulting to Bird deleting Roberts as her Facebook friend.
According to the Australian Fair Work Commission, unfriending a co-worker on Facebook is a factor that constitutes to workplace bullying or office harassment case. Merely unfriending a colleague may not qualify alone, but the act could be seen as a deciding factor, or as part of a series of hostile and unreasonable behaviours, especially if it’s done on social media.
Roberts accused Bird of purposely delaying administrative work, damaging her reputation to the clients and treating her unfavourably in comparison to other colleagues. This is why she was called such names by Bird.
Bird’s unfriending act, according to Roberts, has made her suffer depression and anxiety in particular, along with other unreasonable behaviours she was facing that time.
The court eventually decided in Robert’s favour, with the released ruling which stated that it showed a “lack of emotional maturity on Bird’s side and is indicative of unreasonable behavior.”
According to the FWC deputy president, the Facebook unfriending was one of the 18 allegations of harassment and unreasonable behavior made by Roberts against her office colleague Bird. The act was concluded to be the strongest by the court.
The claim was brought under the bullying provisions of the Fair Work Act, which empowers the Fair Work Commission in Australia to give orders to “stop bullying at work.” The said commission also decided that cutting someone out of your news feeds is tantamount to risking a colleague’s health and safety.
Which was what has presumably happened to Roberts, who had to sought psychological treatment after the incident for work-related stress.
A New York attorney specializing in civil litigation said that “Actions on social media, especially cyber bullying could certainly be used to substantiate a claim for harassment based on a hostile work environment.”
Whether this case could be a start of better government actions against cyberbullying, even if it’s just in Australia for now, other governments could opt to do the same thing.
If it either poses a warning or a threat for citizens and netizens alike to practice rational behaviours and proper etiquette on social media, it’s not for anyone to decide.
Yet, maybe next time, we’ll think twice even before “friending” our co-workers on Facebook.