Managing social media risks in the workplace

Since the evolution of social media, it has become commonplace to ‘friend’ work colleagues on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. While friendship is a necessary and welcome part of the workplace, social media can sometimes create many more issues than first thought. Bullying – either in the virtual world or in real life – can become rampant through the use of social media, and can have negative consequences for those involved. Here is how you can combat bullying through social media.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, an employee is bullied at work if “a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards them or a group of workers, and …the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.” Unreasonable actions include things like victimizing, threatening, intimidating or humiliating. The risk of this type of behaviour becoming more prevalent in the workplace increases with the use of social media.

Becoming friends with an employee on Facebook is not a terrible thing – it can create a good working relationship that allows the employee to trust and respect an employer, and relate to them on a personal level. If a worker finds it necessary to ‘unfriend’ a fellow employee on Facebook, they are entitled to do this – the act itself does not constitute bullying. How the unfriending occurs and the reason behind it is where the issue of bullying may lie.

In a recent Fair Work case Mrs RR v VIEW Launceston Pty Ltd as trustee for the VIEW Launceston Unit Trust T/A View Launceston; Ms LB; Mr JB [2015], an employee was subject to 18 months worth of hostile conduct from her manager. The final act of bullying came from the manager unfriending the employee on Facebook and ‘abusing the employee face-to-face’ shortly afterwards. The employee was deemed medically unfit to return to work after this, as her health and safety was at risk from the behaviour of her manager.

As shown in the case above, it is vital to ensure that employees and employers alike handle all social media accounts professionally and respectfully. This allows for a stronger relationship between all members of the workforce, and can lead to a more productive team.

For more information on bullying and how to prevent it occurring in the workplace, contact us on (08) 9316 9896.

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