None Shall Password: Employers And The Ethics Of Monitoring Social Media-Nazar Kamangar/bridge consulting blogs
We’ve talked about using social media as a marketing platform for your small business. It’s such an effective tool that we sometimes forget that the original purpose of social media was, well, socializing. As a result, many employees you hire will have a social media presence of their own. Whether they have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, pinboards on Pinterest, a blog on Tumblr, or even a combination of several accounts, their name is out there on the internet. And even if they’re not on the clock, their online presence may reflect on you as an employer.
In one memorable recent event, a bartender at a high-end Chicago night club made a truly horrific racist rant on her personal Facebook page. A manager from the club was directed to the post, and fired the writer within 20 minutes. Within 24 hours, the club’s owner had issued the following statement: “Proof would like to confirm its belief in equality, fairness and tolerance to all our friends and partners. Sadly, on occasion, we are all exposed to ignorance and racism. We believe that by continuing to be true to our ideals and leading through our actions that each of us can be an agent for positive change.”
But the damage had already been done. In the comment section on the 312diningdiva blog where the story originally broke, several commenters brought up times they had received less-than-stellar service due to racial bias. Whether the hiring of racist staff members was a one-off in this case, or is indeed endemic at the establishment, the club’s reputation is now aligned with that of their racist employee.
In the wake of a case like this, it is tempting to go too far in the opposite direction. Many businesses are now mandating that potential employees divulge their Facebook passwords during the application process, so that they can see how candidates comport themselves on their personal pages. This opens up a whole other can of worms, though. Assuming an employee complies with this request (which is unlikely, as it violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and the Senate is investigating whether such a request is against federal law) you would then have access to information that it is illegal to base hiring decisions on. This information can include age, marital status, medical history, etcetera. If the person in question does not get the job after a look at their profile information, you’re potentially open to a discrimination lawsuit.
So what’s the solution? As always, there’s a middle ground. Spell out clear expectations in regards to how you expect your employees to represent themselves (and by extension, your company) online. Get legal consultation to help you draw up a social media contract and keep it on file (the Proof club in Chicago did this, which was why it was easy to quickly dismiss the racist bartender). Explain why it’s important to you and the company that your employees hold themselves to a high standard. But once you have all this in place, do not babysit your employees and monitor their every outside-of-office-hours post. The happiest employees will have no reason to complain about their place of work online, and employees that are constantly under a microscope are seldom happy.