Law in the Internet Society

Should Employers Monitor Our Social Media?

-- By MattSavoff - 01 Jan 2015

Be careful what you post. This new mantra which parents must reiterate to their children has become only more important. The rise in social media over the past decade has been accompanied by a rise in employers looking into these social media accounts of prospective employees as well as a rise in firings due to social media posts. Of course, this subject is of great debate and many advocates actually believe that companies should be monitoring even more. Those in support of more privacy argue that social media has nothing to do with work and should not be monitored unless the employer suspects that specific employee of wrongdoing. I subscribe to the belief that when hiring a candidate, employees absolutely should look into the person’s public social media such as Facebook, twitter, and even blogs if applicable. All three of these social media devices are meant for the public eye to see, or at least written with the knowledge and understanding that the public can see. Therefore, when looking to hire a candidate, it is important for the company to look at the social media platforms to see how the candidate portrays themselves to others, and how they would act as an ambassador of the company. Once an employee is hired, I believe that any monitoring of that person’s social media should cease unless there is a legitimate suspicion of wrongdoing.

The Hiring Process

During the hiring process, companies certainly should look into the candidates’ social media accounts. Finding out more about the person and who they are is crucial for an employer because they are not just hiring the worker bee, they are hiring the person as a whole. While I would disagree with a company asking a candidate for their usernames and passwords on grounds of a violation of privacy, I believe that viewing the publicly available information is a wise idea. An employee becomes a reflection of the company outside of the office as well. Those who criticize employers looking into candidates’ social media accounts claim that it leads to discrimination by screening out strong candidates who may have done things the company does not like. This is a fair concern, but when companies look into their candidates’ social media accounts, they are looking for legitimate reasons that the person may be a bad hire. Information such as lying about work or education history, publicly referencing drugs and other illegal activities, and harassment are all subjects of interest for an employer looking into a candidate’s social media. The company wants to find if there is anything about the candidate that presents a genuine concern; hiring an employee is a large investment on the company’s behalf and they should fully look into the person before making a decision. A police department, for example, may reconsider an applicant if they find the person belongs to racist groups through social media. Ultimately, companies should hire a third party to do this research and provide the party with instructions regarding what is relevant and what the third party should report on. This will help mitigate the human element of personal biases a person may experience when perusing an applicant’s social media.

Now That You’re An Employee

Once the company hires the candidate, any and all monitoring of that person’s social media must cease. By hiring the candidate, the company’s Human Resources department has effectively said that it approves of everything that it found on the candidate, including social media posts. Advocating that a company should monitor employees’ social media can be likened to advocating that a company should also listen in on employees’ off duty phone calls. While phone calls are private and social media posts are typically public, the sentiment remains the same. The bottom line is that, for the most part, what employees do on the internet outside of work has nothing to do with work, is done on the employees’ personal computers, and occurs outside of work both in time and place. Lewis Maltby, President of the National Workrights Institute, states that employers fire employees for reasons that have nothing to do with work. He cites examples ranging from people discussing political opinions or religious beliefs to a man fired because he wrote short stories which someone at the company thought were too violent and sexual.

Aside from any moral implications of monitoring employees’ social media accounts, it is economically wasteful. A large opportunity cost comes with monitoring employees’ social media costs. Time spent doing this is time lost doing something much more useful to actually help the company. Many states such as California and New York have laws in place to protect employees from being disciplined for off-duty activity on social media unless the activity can be shown to harm the company. Legislation like this is important because legislators would be hard pressed to find a way to stop companies from finding a way to spy on employees’ social media, morally wrong or not. So at least employees have this protection now from getting fired for off duty social media usage, unless of course it can be shown to directly harm the company.

It is a misconception that employers believe their employees are on social media with the intent of harming the company. In many circumstances, according to Nancy Flynn, founder and Executive Director of the ePolicy Institute, the employee’s activity is unintentional. Instead of incessantly trying to monitor employees’ social media, HR should implement a course regarding social media usage for new hires. In this course the new hires can learn about the company’s social media policy and better understand what they can and cannot post. This would help alleviate the company’s stress that its employees are posting material nonpublic information inadvertently. Companies need to teach and trust their employees instead of keeping an ever present paranoid eye on them.

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r4 - 06 Jan 2015 - 03:24:46 - MattSavoff
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