Un-friend me on Facebook and I’ll take you to the Fair Work Commission!

The case of Roberts v VIEW Launceston & Ors [2015] FWC 6556 involved Ms Roberts filing an application pursuant to section 789FC of the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act) for orders to stop bullying at work.

Ms Roberts was employed as a real estate agent with the VIEW Launceston franchise (VIEW).  As part of Ms Roberts’ application, she alleged that in the course of her employment she had been bullied by Mr James Bird (Principal and Co-Director of VIEW) and Mrs Lisa Bird (Sales Administrator at VIEW and Mr Bird’s wife) between November 2013 and January 2015.

Ms Roberts advanced 18 allegations of unreasonable behaviour, which included:

  • Mrs Bird humiliating and belittling Ms Roberts in front of an Australia Post employee;
  • Mrs Bird deliberately delaying the performance of administrative work for Ms Roberts’ property listings;
  • Mrs Bird ignoring Ms Roberts in the morning when she entered the office and treating her differently to other employees;
  • Mrs Bird making unreasonable comments to Ms Roberts, including Mrs Bird stating “I don’t have to answer to you Rachel!” when Ms Roberts asked her how long she would be out of the office for;
  • Mrs Bird un-friending Ms Roberts on Facebook after a heated meeting between the pair on 29 January 2015.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) accepted that Ms Roberts had been subjected to eight occasions of unreasonable behaviour by Mrs Bird, constituting bullying at work for the purposes of the Act.  Mr Bird was found to have behaved unreasonably towards Ms Roberts on only one occasion, therefore his behaviour was not repeated and fell outside the definition of being “bullied at work”.

Ms Roberts led evidence that she had become depressed, highly anxious and unable to sleep due to being bulled, resulting in the prescription of medication by her general practitioner and treatment from a psychologist.  Accordingly, the FWC accepted that the bullying had caused a real risk to Ms Roberts’ health and safety.

In all of the circumstances, Deputy President Wells of the FWC considered that it was necessary to make an order to stop the bullying.  Although VIEW had implemented an anti-bullying policy to address this issue, Deputy President Wells concluded that there was a real risk of bullying behaviour occurring at work in the future because the Respondents failed to accept that bullying had occurred.

Due to the fact that VIEW is a small workplace, the matter was referred to a conference between the parties to discuss the orders to be made.

This decision should serve as yet another reminder for employers of the importance of implementing and enforcing anti-bullying policies and procedures to create a safe working environment.  Where bullying occurs, an employee will be able to make an application to the FWC, just as Ms Roberts did, and seek formal orders that the bullying stops.  If such an order is breached, a body corporate will be liable for a maximum penalty of $54,000, and individuals may be fined up to $10,800 – so not only will you have one less friend on Facebook, you might be out of pocket, too!

Please contact a member of Lynch Meyer’s Workplace Relations team if you require advice about bullying in the workplace.