A recent decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) found that an employee unfriending a coworker on Facebook contributed to a finding of workplace bullying, expanding the impact of employees' social media conduct on employers once again.
This decision—particularly in the context of the proposed introduction of the "dislike" button by Facebook—emphasises the need for employers to ensure that appropriate standards of conduct are upheld in the workplace and also on employees' personal social media accounts where there is a link to the employment relationship.
Ms Roberts, a property consultant, made 18 allegations of bullying against colleagues, Principal and Co-Director of VIEW, James Bird, and Sales Administrator, Lisa Bird. The alleged negative behaviour towards Ms Roberts led her to leave VIEW and contributed to her being consequently diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
The FWC upheld eight of the allegations, which included repeated unreasonable behaviour towards Ms Roberts aimed at belittling and humiliating her. The Commission also held that Ms Roberts' reputation with clients was deliberately damaged, she was treated differently to other employees and her time spent in the office was often made miserable.
This decision is unique in that Ms Bird's action of "unfriending" Ms Roberts on Facebook following an argument, combined with the other incidents of poor behaviour, contributed to the bullying finding. The FWC stated that the action "evinces a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behaviour".
The FWC also found that if Ms Roberts had remained employed there was a risk that the bullying would have continued and that, despite VIEW introducing a new anti-bullying policy, Mr and Mrs Bird demonstrated a lack of understanding about the nature of bullying and its effects.
The FWC issued a stop bullying order to the VIEW workplace. However, the specific details of the order are yet to be announced.
How will this affect you?
This decision indicates that the behaviour of employees on their personal social media accounts can affect the employment relationship. It clearly demonstrates the need for businesses, both large and small, to have an appropriate social media policy in place that covers personal social media activities that could affect the employment relationship.
The purpose of a social media policy is to educate workers on the appropriate use of social media in conjunction with employment and to set boundaries on the extent it can be used within a workplace. These types of policies are most effective when employees are regularly reminded of the policy and given the opportunity to confidentially report potential breaches.
It is also necessary to highlight to employees that action taken on social media can constitute bullying and/or harassment, even if it occurs outside ordinary working hours.
The personal nature of social media platforms means that direct monitoring by employers is difficult. However, as this case demonstrates, senior employees and managers must be particularly wary of the effects of their behaviour on social media.
Although the "unfriending" action was not the only conduct that led to the finding of bullying, it does raise some cause for concern regarding what this means for employers' responsibilities in the growing social media space.
It is important for employers to be proactive to reduce conduct on social media having an impact on the workplace. We recommend:
- implementing a social media policy
- updating your bullying and/or harassment policy to confirm that action taken on social media can constitute inappropriate behaviour
- ensuring employees and managers are aware of, and understand, the policy
- monitoring the workplace for compliance with the policy
- taking action to address any breaches, and
- if a dispute arises in the workplace—to encourage employees to stop and think before taking any action on social media.