You would have to try hard to get away from social media. It’s in our homes, it’s on our smartphones, it’s at work. Increasingly, social media is becoming a prominent business tool; not only are companies using fan pages to interact with their customer base, employers are using it to keep tabs on their employees. It has become expected that when one applies for a job, prospective employers would check networking sites, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, but what about those who are already on the job?
Almost half of employers use social media to vet potential employees. Again, this is to be expected, but those who have already landed their jobs may think that those days are behind them and they can once again post drunken Facebook pics. But larger corporations, including Walmart, are instituting social media policies, and some are using software programs specifically designed to monitor use. Two percent of employers reported terminating workers because of content posted on social media sites, while one percent of workers lost their jobs because of video sharing on YouTube and other sites.
The National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency, is backing an employee who was fired for making negative comments about her supervisor on Facebook. The NLRB claims that her actions were “protected” in the same way they would be if she discussed her supervisor with her coworkers in the break room. The negative comment was made while the employee was at home on her personal computer, which the NLRB calls “protected concerted activity.” They fault the employer for maintaining and enforcing an “overly broad blogging and internet policy that contained unlawful provisions.”
While some employers have a no social media rule, that is likely to be impossible to enforce. Rather, savvy companies are encouraging the use of social networking but have a policy against depicting the company they work for in their personal posts – either negatively or positively.
Monitoring social media also puts the employer at risk, however, because this is a grey legal area. What is protected? What isn’t? If someone discusses their personal drinking or smoking habits, which are protected acts, can they be disciplined if they reflect poorly on the company? If someone posts inaccurate or false information about the company or product, can the company then be held liable? There are more questions than answers, but it is certainly an issue that is going to permeate the workplace in the years to come.