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Guide: Social Media in the Workplace

Social media is not bound to the confines of one's work or home, and goes wherever an individual goes - it is accessible from almost everywhere.

But what happens when social media starts to affect the employer and employee relationship?

Employers often feel that employee use of social media during work hours is affecting the overall operations. This is often attributed to the distraction that social media provides - employees aren’t always focused on their tasks at work.

On the flip side, employees can feel violated if they find out that their employee is trying to control or track their social media usage.

So how can human resources/the organization have a positive relationship with employees and social media?

Currently, Canadian Law does not provide black and white legal framework - it does not specify what employers and employees can and cannot do regarding social media and/in the workplace.

The responsibility to outline social media expectations for employees falls on the employer. 

In this blog, we’re going to take a look at how social media can affect the employer, the employee and how each party can come together to create a cohesive relationship surrounding social networking. 

Employer Concerns

One of the largest concerns for employers is how their organization is being portrayed online via the employees. The employees are a large part of every companies image. Should an employee partake in poor choices related to online activity, this can reflect poorly on the company, especially if the employee’s actions were directly related to their place of employment. 

The online actions of employees can also affect the employer financially.

If an employee hurts the business’s reputation, they are at risk for loss of revenue. Should the employee’s actions bring forth legal trouble, there are even more costs incurred for the company, also resulting in a loss of finances. 

Employee use of social media, while at work, can drastically affect productivity levels. If an employee is scrolling their social media all day instead of getting work done, it negatively affects the company's daily operations.

It is legal for organizations to monitor the use of company property (including electronics), but it is encouraged that companies make employees aware that they are being monitored. If employees are not using company property appropriately, it is possible for the company to block access to certain websites (ex. Facebook, Instagram).

Employee use of their personal devices can also affect productivity.

Employers should have a clear policy that outlines employee use of personal devices, such as restricting use to designated breaks only. 

Lastly, a huge employer concern can revolve around bullying and harassment, especially internally among colleagues.

Knowing intimate details about everyone’s life can encourage and lead to bullying. Some people will post anything publicly on Facebook without acknowledging that others may have access to that information. It’s an open forum for people to pick on others and although your staff members might not do it so openly, they may use what they find to harass and ridicule people in the workplace.

It’s important to note that private social media can be considered as grounds for workplace bullying, it is also not limited by the walls of a physical place of work and can be deemed as bullying regardless of when and where the bully makes the post.

Bullying can create a hostile work environment, affect productivity and even result in loss of employees (resignation due to being harassed).

The organization’s bullying/harassment policies should include social media expectations.

Employee Concerns

Many employees may not understand or see the connection between their online presence and their job, especially if they are using their social media outside of work. They struggle to understand if they are not at work, why should what they do on their own time, with their own devices, affect their place of employment.

Many individuals have the mindset that “it’s my private account”. Employees may feel that their privacy has been or is being violated by having their employer monitoring their actions. 

Did you know that any of the information or communications employees post on their personal social media can potentially be accessed by:

  • current or potential employers

  • recruitment agencies

  • co-workers

  • the employer’s competitors

  • government and law enforcement agencies

  • others outside the employee’s trusted network

Depending on the privacy settings set by the individual user, personal information and communications posted on social media can be read by unintended people.

Also, don’t forget about screenshots. This is the practice of capturing an image of what the device screen is showing. This means someone in your trusted network could take a photo of your social media and send it to individuals or organizations outside your network.

It’s also not uncommon for employers to research job candidates on social media.

Potential employees are at risk of being misrepresented by the online activities of another person. For example, take James Smith, an extremely popular name. If James applies at a bank and has a clean record and great work experience, he should get the job. But, the bank decides to look up James on Facebook and looks at the profile of another James Smith - who participates in a lot of partying and other activities that the bank frowns upon. Because the bank was looking at the wrong James Smith, the real James never got the job. There is not much that ‘real’ James can do, however, he was unfortunately misrepresented via social media due to something out of his control.

There is also potential discrimination if employers use personal information from an individual’s social media such as age, race, disability, religion, national origin, or gender to make a hiring decision - which is not legal in any situation. 

Note: from an HR standpoint, it is legal (and tempting) to look up potential employees on social media as long as your hiring decision does not violate protected grounds (age, race, religion, etc). However, due to the example mentioned above, it’s not advisable. Do your research and make your decision the old fashioned way - resumes, pre-screens and interviews.

Who’s Responsible For What Happens Online?

Ultimately, it’s easy to suggest that the employee is 100% responsible for their own actions and companies should not be linked to what decisions employees make online.

But, companies need to be able and be prepared to protect themselves in the event an employee's online actions interfere with the company - whether it be the company values or the day-to-day operations.

Companies are able to regulate employee use of social media, however, the company needs to have a policy outlining the expectations. If a company does not have a policy and terminates an employee for social media-related reasons (in the event of a dispute), it may become more difficult for the company to prove they had the right to do so. Better safe than sorry.

Paying an employee out after termination is likely more cost-effective than losing a lawsuit to that same employee.

As an employee, you also have a duty to protect yourself. If you don’t participate in questionable activities involving social media, there should be no reason to worry.

A general rule of thumb is that if you are questioning something you’re posting or worried about who might see it, don’t post it. 

If you’re an employer and want to take action regarding a social media policy, stay tuned! Our next blog will feature some steps you can take to start building and implementing that policy.

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