Social Media

Facebook unfriending considered in office harassment case

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Can Facebook unfriending be bullying?

Could unfriending a co-worker on Facebook constitute workplace bullying? According to the Australian Fair Work Commission, it definitely could be a factor.

Deputy president Nicole Wells of the FWC ruled last Wednesday that a Tasmanian woman was bullied by a colleague who had unfriended her on Facebook after a workplace confrontation.

The Facebook unfriending was one of 18 allegations of harassment and unreasonable behavior brought forth by Rachael Roberts, a real estate agent, against her co-worker Lisa Bird.

Roberts accused Bird of purposely delaying administrative work, damaging her reputation with clients and treating her unfavorably in comparison to other colleagues.

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Wells determined that 8 of the allegations were substantiated and that Bird's continued behavior had caused a risk of health and safety for Roberts, who had sought psychological treatment for work-related stress.

"This action by Mrs Bird evinces a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behavior, the likes of which I have already made findings on," Wells said in her decision.

The ruling does not mean that unfriending a colleague automatically constitutes bullying, but that the act could prove a pattern of unreasonable and hostile behaviors.

"Actions on social media, especially cyberbullying could certainly be used to substantiate a claim for harassment based on a hostile work environment," Ted Geiger, a New York attorney specializing in civil litigation, told CNBC.

"This decision here is a onetime decision and while the unfriending is the headline, since the decision was based on number of actions over a two year period…I don't think that unfriending will become the sole basis for liability anytime soon."

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.