Ethical Social Media Policies at Work

Employers are increasingly using social media to screen potential applicants. Sociologist Heather Williams argues that employers should think carefully about the extent to which a person’s personal social media use affects their ability to carry out their job. Are you violating privacy by snooping into employee’s lives? Are you qualified to adequately assess the business impact of the information you see on someone’s Facebook profile? Are you committing an act of discrimination by acting on the information you see?

"Employers should establish a policy on how to use the information obtained when screening from social networking in order to avoid discrimination."
“Employers should establish a policy on how to use the information obtained when screening from social networking in order to avoid discrimination.”

Once hired, Williams suggests that a company should make their social media policies clear to employees, but these have to be lawful and fair. Individuals are allowed to express their personal opinion on their personal sites. If they make an unfavourable comment about how they’re treated at their jobs, this reflects badly on the company. A knee-jerk reaction may be to fire the employee. But is this the best course of action?

If you are going to carry out social media checks and it is lawful for you to do so in the state where you live, transparency is key. Williams encourages employers to first obtain express consent from potential applicants before looking on their social media profiles. If you decide to terminate employment because of someone’s social media use, then this should also be made clear before hiring. Williams cautions against misusing social media in hiring and firing. An employer may not be the best judge of what is lawful without careful legal consultation, and you may be choosing to fire someone for the wrong reasons – for something an employee does in their private time.

If an employee goes to social media to express unhappiness in their work, there may be a broader organisational problem than just one disgruntled employee updating their Facebook status. This could be an opportunity for reflection and growth, rather than punishment.

Over to You!

Has your company have social media policies in place? Are they useful or are you looking to improve them?

Top photo: Janis Lanka via Flickr