Thirty-nine percent of hiring managers use social media to vet candidates, according to one 2013 survey, and 43 percent of those said they’d decided not to proceed with a prospective hire, based on something they found online. A recent Wall Street Journal article asks, should employers be doing even more than that to keep track of workers’ online presence, even after they’re hired?
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It’s easy to guess why this would be a good idea from the perspective of the company. Keeping tabs on employees’ Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other assorted sundry accounts reduces the chance that someone will mouth off about colleagues or clients and do serious damage to the company’s reputation. It’s harder to imagine why an employee would want their account to be monitored, but Nancy Flynn of ePolicy Institute makes a case.
“Hospital employees have come under criticism or have been fired for discussing patients on Facebook — which violated not only hospital policy but also the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” Flynn writes. “A city official accidentally put some city employees’ private information on a public website, then linked to the site from Twitter, which exposed the workers to potential identity theft and left the city vulnerable to regulatory action, negative publicity and lawsuits.”
The Possibility of a Witch Hunt
The downside to unfettered access is that it can become more about policing behavior than protecting the company or its workers, argues Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute.
“Employers don’t need to practice wall-to-wall monitoring of employees’ social media to protect their legitimate interests,” he writes. “Yes, employers have a legal right to monitor employees’ conduct on their work computers. But the only time employers have a legal duty to monitor employee communications is when the employer has reason to believe that the employee is engaged in illegal conduct.”
The danger is that employers will find information that colors their opinion of their employees — fairly or unfairly. Your boss could discover, for example, that you’re politically conservative while they’re liberal, or vice versa, or make a snap judgment based on your religion, your social life outside of work, or any one of a number of factors that aren’t relevant to your performance at your job.
So What Can You Do?
If you’re a manager, and the discussion of employee monitoring arises, consider the purpose and the possible repercussions. There’s also potential legal fallout: In several states, it’s now illegal to demand social media passwords or access to accounts. If your company insists, they could find themselves in more legal trouble than they would if a worker made an off-color comment on Facebook.
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