The next time you are stationed in Australia, think before unfriending a colleague from work on Facebook as you could be held guilty of bullying. Setting a one-of-a-kind precedent in social media ethics, a Tasmaninan court has ruled that unfriending a co-worker, taken together with other hostile acts, amounted to unreasonable behaviour.
The case came up when two women, Lisa Roberts and James Bird fell out while working for a real estate agent's office. According to Roberts, Bird called her a "naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher" after the former had complained to her boss about Bird. After a flurry of disagreements, Bird deleted Roberts as her Facebook friend. Roberts claimed she had been facing such unreasonable behaviour for sometime but it was due to this incident in particular that she suffered depression and anxiety. The court ruled in Roberts' favour stating it showed "a lack of emotional maturity on Bird's part and is indicative of unreasonable behaviour."
Although the Facebook unfriending was one of 18 allegations of harassment and rude behaviour brought about by the plaintiff, it 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," but falls short of permitting the tribunal to make awards of compensation. The Commission also decided that cutting someone out of your news feeds is tantamount to risking a colleague's health and safety.
Merely unfriending a colleague may not per se qualify as workplace bullying. However, the act may be seen as part of a series of hostile behaviours, especially on social media.