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Much has been made in the Australian press about a Tasmanian Fair Work Commission ruling that a real estate sales administrator’s decision to unfriend a fellow employee on Facebook constituted evidence of bullying.

What you may have missed among some of the sensationalist headlines (such as “Unfriending colleagues on Facebook is bullying in Tasmania!”), however, is that the act of unfriending in isolation was not the crux of the story. Far from it. In fact it was one of 18 allegations of bullying made by real estate agent Rachel Roberts against colleague Lisa Bird over a period of 15 months – 10 of which were upheld, including the Facebook incident.

Given how much impact social media has on our lives in the 21st century it’s perhaps no surprise that this element of the story has been given so much press coverage. However, this incident should not necessarily lead to businesses clamping down on colleagues connecting with each other online, which should always be at the discretion of the business owner.

How might this impact workplace bullying?

So what might be the fall-out in this case? Well, in the short term it could mean that colleagues will be less likely to offer or accept friend invites from each other in future for fear of these connections ultimately turning sour and working against them at a later date.

But more importantly, the Fair Work Commission ruling highlights the need for businesses to ensure they have social media policies in place that identify acceptable and unacceptable behaviour when using social media.

And this should be part of a wider company policy about workplace bullying. The policy should cover a definition of workplace bullying; a complaints process; and information about the consequences for a worker who has engaged in workplace bullying. All staff should be aware of the company policy, and know the avenues open to them to report workplace bullying.

Above all, creating a company culture that prevents bullying through a collaborative and respectful approach to colleagues will pay dividends – regardless of your views on social media in the workplace.

From 1 January 2014, a worker in a constitutionally covered business who reasonably believes that he or she has been bullied at work has been able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying – and the case above is a prime example.

And with workplace bullying cases costing employers an average of $17,000 to $24,000 per claim, engendering a positive workplace culture can also help ensure your workers compensation premiums are kept low.

For more tips on how to ensure your workplace is free from bullying, read our previous blog post on the subject here. You can read more about the meaning and definition of workplace bullying here.

At Emjay Risk Strategies, we are experts in workers compensation insurance, and we can help you with risk management, workplace analyses and targeted training needs. You can read more about our workers comp services here, and you can contact us on 02 9796 0400.

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