Social media offers enormous business potential but can quickly become a headache for employers if it is misused by employees. A recent FWC decision includes the action of ‘unfriending’ a work colleague on Facebook as unreasonable conduct by an employee.
In a recent FWC case a bullying application was brought by a property consultant who alleged multiple incidents of bullying behaviour. The issues were primarily between the property consultant and the sales administrator. The behaviour complained of included repeated conduct designed to leave out, humiliate and belittle the property consultant. This variously involved delaying administrative work for the consultant, ignoring her and other inappropriate behaviour.
The Facebook component, which has garnered media notoriety, occurred after the sales administrator attempted to block the complainant leaving a meeting room and likened her to a ‘naughty little school girl’. She then took to Facebook and unfriended the property consultant removing her from her list of Facebook contacts. This latter action was just one aspect within a larger pattern of repeated bullying behaviour but it highlights the potential (mis)use of social media in this context.
The Deputy President found that there was a reasonable likelihood of the bullying continuing given the lack of understanding on behalf of the parties involved about what constitutes bullying. The employer had recently put in place a bullying policy but its belated implementation was not considered sufficient to mitigate ongoing risk. A separate conference is to be convened to finalise the stop bullying orders.
Lesson for Employers
Employee use of social media platforms both inside and outside the workplace is inevitable. Employers need to reflect this reality in workplace policies by ensuring that conduct guidelines apply to social media usage where there is a connection with work. All workplaces should have a bullying policy that reflects the Fair Work Act definition of bullying and roll it out pre-emptively ahead of problems occurring.
The action of unfriending someone is unlikely to constitute bullying in the absence of a wider context of bullying behaviour but as with most things the action may well be problematic in the wrong setting.