Employers and employees alike use social media for business and personal reasons. Social websites, such as Facebook, can allow a large group of people into a person's life and also help a business grow. Employers and employees also have the ability to use social websites as a way of gathering information. An individual might contemplate whether to accept a position with a company based on the information they glean from the company website and existing employees' postings on social media. At the same time, employers often make hiring decisions based on online research done on prospective employees. "Google" a name and it is not unusual for you to receive hundreds of hits.
Consequently, it is critical that both employers and individuals take steps to protect their reputation and. to the extent possible. ensure that unflattering posts and images are kept off the web. For many individuals who have fallen victim to online smearing, or who have had private information posted online without their permission, having the post deleted may be difficult or virtually impossible without some form of legal action. The link contained herein is a Honolulu news story that covers the issue of how difficult it is to wipe off the internet information or pictures that are embarassing, defamatory, or just not meant for public consumption.
For companies, any negative comments about the workplace by an employee can take on a life of their own in cyberspace, resulting in damaging publicity for the company. In addition, companies need to understand that there are risks to viewing employees’ or potential employees' online activities. Looking up an applicant's profile could be grounds for a lawsuit if job seekers claim they were snubbed because of information garnered from the web regarding their race, religion or sexual orientation.
Clear Guidelines are Critical
Employers would be wise to protect their proprietary information and reputation by having clear guidelines on what is permissible and appropriate use of social media. At a minimum a Company should:
- prohibit employees from speaking online on behalf of the company unless given permission
- prohibit employees from sharing information that is confidential and proprietary about the company
- prohbiit the use of the Company logo and trademarks without permission, and
- prohibit online activities that are illegal/unlawful.
At the same time, however, employers have to be careful not to overstep. For example, when employees post statements and communicate with each other online about the terms and conditions of their employment, they may be protected from retaliation -- even if those statements are highly critical. The National Labor Relations Board has said that such discussions are a form of concerted worker activity that are legally protected, whether or not the employees are in a union. For more information on this and other legal protections for what employees post online, see Can I Be Fired for Something I Posted on My Facebook Page?