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Last week it was reported that an Australian Fair Work Commission had decided unfriending a fellow employee on Facebook could be regarded as evidence of bullying.

The fact that there are now almost 1.5 billion people using Facebook meant this simple finding generated news headlines right around the world. Only a few weeks back Facebook announced that it had passed the milestone of one billion users in a single day, that’s 1 in 7 people on earth.

So, it should be no surprise that the subject of Facebook activity is being raised more and more in the context of workplace disciplinary procedures.

In fact unfriending a work colleague was also one of the features of a recent case[1] that came before the Employment Appeal Tribunal. When one of a team of handling agents employed at an airport was promoted to the role of supervisor, she thought it would no longer be appropriate to be Facebook ‘friends’ with her former colleagues. Her act of unfriending sparked a campaign of retaliation which included the image of a witch being imposed as a screensaver on her computer.

That case was reported only a few weeks after another employee had brought a claim of unfair dismissal after having been dismissed because of Facebook posts which he had made many months earlier. The employer considered that the insulting remarks about colleagues and his references to drinking alcohol whilst on standby, were grounds to dismiss for misconduct. The employee’s explanation that this was just Facebook ‘banter’ and wasn’t really meant to be believed was not accepted[2].

In the future unfriending a work colleague may not be the only way in which Facebook may cause a row to break out amongst colleagues. Facebook has recently confirmed it is now planning to add a ‘dislike’ button alongside the current ‘like’ button that can be used to indicate what others think of a post. Could dislikes also constitute bullying or even harassment?

In one of the earlier cases[3] concerning Facebook it was found that postings which mocked a supervisor who had fallen down the stairs at work amounted to discrimination. The subsequent ‘likes’ given by work colleagues were found to be potentially further acts of discrimination. It would not be difficult then to consider that the new dislike button could also be regarded in such a way.

The increasing frequency in which Facebook activity is playing a part in disciplinary procedures highlights the real need for employers to address the issue by having in place a social media policy that gives guidance on what is and what is not acceptable conduct. The key message should be that Facebook and other social media postings may impact on the workplace even where they have posted outside the workplace and in the employee’s own time.

This post was edited by Chris Davies. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

[1] Biggin Hill Airport v Derwich 2015

[2] The British Waterways Board v Smith 2015

[3] Novak v Phones 4U Ltd 2012


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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.