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When Your Boss Wants to Friend You on Facebook

Has your boss ever asked to be "friends" with you on Facebook? As social media become more prevalent, more workers are facing this question. A Boston Globe story reports the fastest-growing segment of Facebook is people 25 years or older, and more than half of all users are beyond college.

Accepting a boss's Facebook request can be awkward, but rejecting it can be a slight--and potentially detrimental to your career. Should employers make such inquiries? If they do--and no doubt some will--what's an employee to do?

Employees and Employers, Beware

An MSNBC story from last summer notes:

According to a March survey by Ponemon Institute, a privacy think tank, 35 percent of hiring managers use Google to do online background checks on job candidates, and 23 percent look people up on social networking sites. About one-third of those Web searches lead to rejections, according to the survey.

Evidently, employers are poking around online--because they can, and technology will likely improve and refine the information they gather in the future. This wealth of information holds important lessons for employees and employers.

Employees must first be aware potential employers are conducting these searches. The MSNBC story points to an Adecco study that found 66 percent of Generation Y respondents didn't realize their online personas could become part of hiring decisions.

Once workers know how employers are tapping into their online histories, they should understand whatever they post online could be why they don't land a job. Equipped with this knowledge, workers can determine how to handle at least some of the information the Web holds about them.

Employers need to know some information online may be fabricated, or part of a smear campaign, as a BusinessWeek Debate Room notes. It's wise to secure second and third sources that support the information.

And while it would be very difficult to do, if employees prove you've discriminated against them based on a Facebook find, a new form of lawsuit may crop up: the wrongfully-used-social-media suit. It may sound far-fetched, but five years ago, would you have imagined a company doing damage control for people regarding their online presence?

Two Sides of the Social-Media Coin

Social media is part of the workplace. The way it's used and handled may change, but it's not going away. Should employees work around that reality, and create two separate Facebook accounts, for professional and personal purposes?

Are bosses wrong to seek out subordinates on Facebook? Do employers need to establish formal policies, communicating to current and future employees what is acceptable concerning social media? Should they forbid hiring managers from scouring the Web for party pictures or religious views of applicants?

Maybe the government should get involved, and write a law about what's protected and private regarding social media?

A commenter on the BusinessWeek piece says the debate will subside as more people grow accustomed to the social-media parade. Could this be a generational issue? Will it fall away as more baby boomers retire and hand the workplace reins to Generations X and Y? 

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