While the internet arguably brings people together, monitoring employees on social media presents new challenges for employers, as online platforms open new avenues for workplace harassment. Social media goes as far as allowing content posted by employees to directly impact the image of those who employ them.
Given the potential risks social media can cause in a workplace, is it appropriate for an employer to monitor their employees’ social media presence, or does it represent a breach of privacy on the employer’s part?
The answer to both is entirely contextual and depends upon what information an employer is collecting, as well as how they collect it.
Reviewing Employees’ Social Media Before Hiring
It has become commonplace for employers to screen applicants and potential hires for their company using social media, both in order to get a more rounded picture of their prospective employee, and to weed out those with discriminatory or otherwise unsavory attitudes and demeanors.
While it may be helpful in ensuring potential employees are a cultural fit, monitoring individuals on social media presents certain privacy concerns. It may also open employers up to accusations of discrimination.
Invariably, an individual’s social media will contain a wealth of personal information that a prospective employer would not normally have access to. Much of the information shared on social media can be related to human rights protected grounds, such as race, sexual orientation, or religion.
To avoid potential violations, it is generally best as an employer to identify what information you are specifically looking for, as well as the reason it is required. Employers may also consider outsourcing their review of employee information to a third party to avoid unnecessary and unwanted exposure to compromising information.
Monitoring Employees’ Social Media Use During Employment
Even after an employee has been hired, issues may arise from their use of social media in the workplace. However, the need to balance employee privacy rights against the needs of the employer, particularly in protecting their business interests, remains. For instance, asking employees to add their employer on social media or requesting their log-in information, whether an innocent request or not, may open the employer up to liability.
Of course, employees should be careful about what they post about their workplace on social media. Depending on the facts of the case, employers may have just cause to dismiss an employee due to their damaging posts. Even if you believe it is true, if you would not say it to your employer’s face, maybe don’t post it for the whole world to see.
Creating Social Media Policies
A less intrusive alternative to active monitoring is creating a social media policy. The purpose of the policy would be to notify employees what behavior is and is not acceptable online, both in and outside of the workplace. Another purpose would be to outline any monitoring the company may need to engage in ahead of time, so employees may provide their informed consent to the process.
Both the policy and the method by which it is to be enforced should be as transparent as possible.
Contact Us for Help
If you are an employer looking to address or prevent issues arising from the use of social media in the workplace, or an employee curious about your privacy rights in the online workplace, our team of experienced employment and human rights lawyers are happy to help.
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