Social media sites make it easier than ever for people to stay connected. It’s almost a guarantee that your employees are using social networking in the workplace while on break or lunch. Social media helps friends stay in touch and can help your business find new customers and reach out to potential employees. Your company can use social media to learn more about prospective hires or monitor what current employees are doing off the clock.
However, monitoring employees on social media raises privacy concerns. For example, every Canadian province has laws that restrict, on at least some level, the monitoring of employee email and social media messages, even those sent and received on company computers. Moreover, placing broad restrictions on what your employees can post on their private social media accounts stifles creativity.
Social Media Monitoring
Social media monitoring involves scanning the profiles of current employees on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and looking for material that suggests illegal or unscrupulous activities or paints your company in a bad light.
While social media monitoring is effective in some capacity, give careful consideration to not violating privacy laws. Also, you likely want to refrain from stifling creativity or creating an oppressive workplace culture where employees feel unable to express ideas that don’t rigidly conform to company doctrine. While looking into applicants’ social media pages provides a wealth of information, it’s also important to conduct background checks to protect your employees and company’s assets.
Screening Applicants and Social Networking Privacy
Social media can also offer you a great tool for screening applicants to your company. Seeing what a candidate shares publicly can help you determine if the candidate is a good cultural fit, and also give you insight into the person’s judgment. Inappropriate or inflammatory posts can be a warning sign of behavior you don’t want to have to deal with if they representing your company. For example, if your business is a nonprofit organization that advocates for social justice, and a prospective hire’s Facebook page includes a racially charged meme, you might decide this person isn’t right for your organization.
Generally speaking, any public posts are fair game, as anyone can view them. But it’s a good idea to check your local and provincial laws before you ask to view any private posts as a part of screening. In Ontario, for example, to protect an applicant’s social networking privacy, the Human Rights Code prohibits you as a potential employer from requesting their Facebook password .
Privacy During Hiring
Asking improper questions while conducting an interview could lead to a finding of discrimination, even if you had no intention to discriminate. Say you start an interview with a female applicant by mentioning your family and then asking if she has kids of her own. This could lead to the applicant feeling concerned that her family status may affect her employment opportunities, which may violate the Ontario Human Rights Code. It’s likely the best course of action to ask questions that strictly gather information about qualifications and the applicant’s ability to handle the job requirements.
Establishing a Social Media Policy
It’s a good idea to ensure your employees and prospective employees understand your company’s social media policy. Consider letting your employees know exactly where your business stands on monitoring employees’ social media usage. You can take it a step further and clearly establish what your company considers social media. Nearly everyone recognizes Instagram and Facebook as social media, but does your company view a video posted online or a blog comment on a news article as social media? Social media is constantly evolving, so it may be beneficial to establish your personal definition of social media—such as any online medium that showcases pictures or videos in the open.
Every Canadian province has laws that protect employee privacy on email and social media. Even when sending and receiving emails or social media messages on company computers, employees enjoy a limited level of protection from their employer’s prying eyes. In some jurisdictions, businesses can monitor computer use provided they have a reason for doing so and make their intentions known. Other jurisdictions offer employees more robust privacy protection. Knowing these laws and how they apply to your company’s province and jurisdiction can save you from a lawsuit if a disgruntled employee retaliates against your business.
Benefits of Not Monitoring
Maintaining a hands-off policy for employee social media use has benefits. You probably won’t discover illegal activities or anything that puts your business at actual risk by scanning social media pages. With a few exceptions, most people are smart enough to keep that stuff off social media, or at the very least, put privacy controls in place so that only a select audience can see it. What you’re more likely to find are posts that certain people may find offensive or that contradict the prevailing ideology of your company. Before disciplining workers for such posts, ask yourself if you really want a workplace culture that demands complete loyalty to established doctrine. Studies indicate that businesses that encourage free thought and creativity experience increased productivity and profitability as opposed to autocratic businesses, often by a large degree. Remember your employees are people with their own backgrounds, ideas, and perspectives, not just cogs in a wheel. Ask yourself if their private activities on social media really affect their ability to do their jobs.
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