From Facebook to Fair Work Commission: a cautionary tale

Published on Oct 6, 2015

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A Facebook unfriending has successfully been used as evidence in a Fair Work Commission decision about workplace bullying.

The Commission handed down the decision against a Tasmanian real estate franchise after finding merit in a number of claims put forward by an aggrieved employee.

An agent at the real estate franchise alleged that over the course of 14 months the agency’s sales administrator subjected her to belittling and humiliating treatment and deliberate delays in processing her work that gave clients the perception she was unprofessional.

Following a particularly combustive altercation between the two, the sales administrator unfriended the real estate agent on Facebook in a move Fair Work Commission deputy president Nicole Wells said showed “a lack of emotional maturity” and was “indicative of unreasonable behaviour”.

Although not the primary action that led to deputy president Wells’ handing down of the order to stop the bullying at work of the real estate agent, when considered in context with the 18 allegations put forth the Facebook unfriending did play a role in the decision.

Don’t get caught out

During the period the alleged bullying took place it was shown the real estate franchise lacked appropriate policies and procedures to address workplace bullying.

Work Health & Safety expert and owner of The Detail Devils Maralyn Kastel said:  “Bullying is a workplace health and safety issue and must be included in WHS policies together with consultation with workers.  It is common for small businesses to struggle without the appropriate documentation to guide them through this difficult issue in the workplace.”

“It is simply not enough to say that bullying will not be tolerated.  It must be backed with procedures so that the employer can deal with this issue promptly and fairly.  It is also crucial that workers are aware of behaviour expectations and what to do if they are being bullied,” Ms Kastel said.

“This case shows the importance of having strategies and procedures in place to prevent and manage bullying and harassment in the workplace.  Businesses should also consider having a social media policy because as we increasingly live our lives online, the line between our work life and personal life is increasingly being blurred.”

Put some policies in place

More than 2,000 businesses operate in Cessnock, at least 90 per cent of which are small or micro businesses.  Head to The Detail Devils website for lots of helpful tools, tips and advice to get your business on the right health and safety track.

Businesses can also contact the Hunter Region BEC in Kurri Kurri on 4936 2557 to make an appointment with a consultant to discuss options available for assistance in developing policies and procedures across a range of topics including WHS.

For more information about bullying and harassment visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.