Social Media Monitoring

An American town recently generated controversy when it asked municipal job applicants to hand over account information (including passwords) for any social media sites they subscribe to.  As part of their pre-employment background checks, the employer apparently wanted to see if the applicant had engaged in any personal activities that might be deemed inappropriate. A blizzard of negative publicity and threatened lawsuits quickly ended that practice.

Other employers have found themselves in the newspaper after disciplining staff for Facebook-documented personal activities that management deemed inappropriate, or over published comments an employee made about the employer or workplace on blogs.

Managers do have legitimate rights to protect the reputation of their organisation, while employees have a duty of care towards their employer, which includes not acting in ways that would bring disrepute to the organisation or that may poison the workplace, and to maintain confidentiality of private matters.

As all employees have a right to privacy, especially for activities unrelated to their workplace, employers must restrict pre-employment checks or monitoring of employees’ online activities to those strictly related to any legitimate requirements of the organisation. It’s not for the employer to agree or disagree with whatever staff do on their own time, with a few narrow exceptions.

Thinking through appropriate and inappropriate uses of online media ahead of time will allow the organisation to provide appropriate guidance to their managers and employees on how to handle potential situations.

·      With a few notable exceptions, (police officers, clergy, teachers) the personal time, activities and friends of a typical employee should be off limits to the boss.  Any legitimate exceptions should be well documented and known by all parties.

·      Conversely, employees need to know that it is not acceptable to criticise or otherwise bring disrepute to their employer, managers, or colleagues in a public forum (whether online or elsewhere).

·      The employer should have a communications policy that encourages appropriate online engagement by relevant employees in the course of business, backed by appropriate guidelines (e.g. full disclosure of identity and connection with the organisation).

·      Employees need to keep their professional and personal lives separate. A social media site intended for one’s friends should not include work-related matters, especially without the consent of the employer or colleagues impacted (e.g. photographs of one’s colleagues in swimsuits from the company picnic shouldn’t be posted in a personal forum without their knowledge or permission).

·      Employers concerned about what people may be saying about their organisation can generically monitor online media such as Twitter, and respond to any concerns as appropriate. In other words, there is no need to specifically monitor employee’s personal accounts.

Issues such as these regularly come up in our assessments.  The use and abuse of social media sites is a relatively new phenomenon for employers to deal with.  Consequently it is important for organisations to have well-defined and clearly communicated rules firmly in place.