Social Media and the Workplace

There has been a lot of discussion, and some controversy, about social media and what employers can and cannot do with employees’ personal social media accounts.  The most recent discussion is about employers asking for candidates Facebook passwords during the interview process.  Quite honestly, I think that is a bad business practice and I advise business owners against doing it for a variety of reasons. 

First of all, it has been researched and proven that being treated with respect is the most important thing to employees when it comes to job satisfaction and motivation.  Falling in right after that is having a good work/life balance.  If an employee doesn’t feel like they are being treated with respect or that the employer is impeding on their personal life through their social media accounts, they can become disengaged and their level of performance will decrease or they will seek employment elsewhere.  I think having employees’ login information for their social media site could cause an issue with job satisfaction and someone’s perception of their work/life balance. 

Employers need to be careful on how they use the information they find on the internet or social media sites and make sure they are using it legally and not discriminating against protected classes.  Using this information to make hiring and employment decisions can open employers up to a variety of potential lawsuits, whether unintentional or not.

Keep in mind there is a difference between performing general internet searches and asking for password information.  Most of the internet is fair game, so employees and candidates need to understand that there is no expectation of privacy for anything that is made public on the internet and not “private” or password protected during an employer search.  It is ok for employers to see information if it is public or voluntarily provided to the employer, however it is not ok if an employer has to ask for access or coerces a candidate or employee for access.   

Although there hasn’t been law established regarding social media in particular, the same rules apply to social media conduct as it does to other employee conduct which means employers should have a social media policy as part of their Employee Handbook.  The policy should address hiring, monitoring and firing of employees and include the following points:

  • How the employer will use the information discovered during internet searches
  • That candidates and employees should have no expectation of privacy regarding publicly available information
  • That the employer will comply with all applicable federal and state laws including, but not limited to, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), Stored Communications Act (SCA) and Title VII
  • Employees should not conduct company business on social networking sites without authorization
  • Employees are to not post anything with offensive language that incites violence or promotes harm to the company or other employees

Additionally, an employer’s Social Media policy should highlight issues that are covered under current company policies such as Confidentiality, Harassment & Discrimination and make them applicable to social media.  But again, how you gain access to that information that may be on someone’s Facebook page and how you use it can be the bigger issue.

To ensure full legal compliance of all applicable laws surrounding this issue, it is best to consult with an employment attorney and have them review your social media policy.