Culture

Facebook 'unfriending' is workplace bullying, Australia tribunal finds

Technically Incorrect: Australia's Fair Work Commission declares that unfriending a co-worker is mean, so very mean.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


If you like a co-worker on Facebook, you must always like them. In Australia. CNET

A few weeks ago, rumors emerged that Facebook was working on a .

I foresee lamentation and disaster with this idea, especially in Australia.

I base my foreboding on a case that has just been adjudicated by a labor tribunal in that country. As News.com reports, Australia's Fair Work Commission was hearing the case of Rachael Roberts, who worked for a real estate agency in Tasmania.

Roberts' allegation was that Lisa Bird, a sales administrator, and her husband James constantly "belittled and humiliated" her.

Among these alleged belittlements was Bird telling Roberts that she was "a naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher." Ooh. So very harsh, as we say in California.

Roberts claimed almost 20 incidents from her three years with the company. These included being forbidden from changing the temperature on the AC in the office. One of them, though, was deeply heinous: Bird unfriended Roberts on Facebook.

I know, I know. It's happened to you and you felt just terrible. Why would this person have suddenly unfriended you? You thought you were friends. Alright, you hadn't seen them since 1991. You hadn't even thought of seeing them ever again. But how could they?

The commission clearly felt that the unfriending was bullying. In finding for Roberts, it said: "This action by Mrs. Bird evinces a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behavior."

Moreover, the commission's Nicole Wells decreed: "I am of the view that Mrs. Bird took the first opportunity to draw a line under the relationship with Ms, Roberts on 29 January 2015, when she removed her as a friend on Facebook as she did not like Ms. Roberts and would prefer not to have to deal with her. I am satisfied that the evidence of Ms. Roberts, as to the incident on 29 January 2015, is to be preferred and that the allegation of unreasonable behavior by Mrs. Bird in Allegation 17 is made out."

We sometimes have to work with people we truly dislike. We try and manage as best we can. Usually, they don't like us much either and there's a (largely unspoken) agreement that there's deep antipathy.

But here are the modern facts: Though some of Roberts's accusations were upheld and others were not, unfriending a co-worker can constitute workplace bullying...in Australia.

Which leaves me only to offer one seemingly obvious suggestion: Dear Australians, don't Facebook friend your co-workers.

Does that seem terribly impossible? Yes, I see. It does, doesn't it?