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Defriending a colleague on Facebook can land you in hot water with employer

View profile for Martha McKinley
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A Tribunal in Australia has ruled that “unfriending” a colleague on Facebook can amount to workplace bullying for the purposes of the Fair Work Act.

This incident was one of a number of allegations made against an employee at a real estate agency by a former colleague, who identified this act as leading to her suffering from depression and anxiety. The Judge concluded that the decision to remove her colleague from her list of Facebook friends showed “poor emotional maturity” on the part of the respondent.

The provisions of the Australian Fair Work Act do not of course apply to workplaces in England and Wales, and there is no right for an employee to bring a “stand alone” claim of bullying and harassment in the same way. However, employees should still be aware that their actions outside the workplace involving colleagues, whether on social media or otherwise, can have an impact upon their working relationship and consequently their employment.

Disclosure of sensitive commercial information, or posting offensive or discriminatory comments can result in serious consequences for any business. A good social media policy will set the boundaries for use of social media within the workplace, as well as making it clear that posting on websites and blogs in personal time can lead to disciplinary action in certain circumstances.

Dismissing an employee for damaging an employer’s business in this way is a safer option if a clear policy has been implemented prior to the act taking place, and we recommend that all employers take this quick and easily implemented step if they have not already done so.

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