Social Media Faux Pas in the Workplace… Who’s Looking Over Your Shoulder?

by | Nov 20, 2020

“LOL”…a popular acronym used on Facebook and other Social Media meaning Laughing out Loud.…but no one’s laughing when a job applicant loses out on a great opportunity because of their over-exuberance Online.

Today, with nearly one in ten people globally considered Facebook users, an alarming and growing trend has developed in employment circles.

Employers are turning to Facebook and other social networking forums to screen candidates and monitor existing employees for “questionable” content.

While not illegal per se in most States, basing employment decisions on non-work related information potentially is.  Employment decisions based on disability, age, race, gender and national origin are illegal in all fifty States, under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and related Federal civil rights statutes.

Employers walk a fine line in researching social networking sites to learn about a candidate.  Individuals routinely share information about their sex lives, disabilities, political views and religious beliefs, in many cases, to their own chagrin.

While prudent use of privacy settings can ameliorate most employer snooping, applicants and employees alike, beware!

Welcome to the digital age in which most online content is captured and permanently stored, even information you thought was “deleted!”

Further, consider what happens when an employer, unbeknownst to you, befriends someone online who has access to your “private” information.

The result? …you are denied a job, passed over for a promotion or in worst-case scenarios, terminated..and the rub..you may never know why!

While many employers use these research tools responsibly to protect proprietary information and the company’s reputation, unfettered access to online information is fraught with problems and potential abuse.

Additionally, while a minority of States prohibit employers from basing employment decisions on non-business related activities..ie: smoking,  weight, appearance etc..these are the exceptions, not the norms!

In most States, employees are employed “at will,” simply meaning that employers can terminate them at any time, for any reason or no reason at all!  Unless you have a contract and/or are in a protected class, employers wield substantial power in who they hire and fire.  The stakes are high when you have a mortgage to pay and a family to support.

Further, until 2010, the United States Government, the enforcer of civil liberties in the workplace, actively discriminated against gays in the military through the “Don’t ask don’t tell” policy.  A homosexual serving his or her country would be discharged if they revealed that they were gay.

With the burgeoning impact that social networking is having on the American workplace, the next logical step is to draft legislation to protect unsuspecting job applicants and employees, specifically prohibiting employers’ use of “private” content, gleaned from social networking sites and other online sources.

Much like private conversations with friends over coffee, why should employers, the government or anyone have unrestricted access to your personal thoughts online?

As an Employment Attorney and Civil Rights Advocate for more than a decade, I frankly don’t see the difference!

My hope is that it doesn’t take nearly two decades to “right the ship” as it did with the “Don’t ask don’t tell” policy which actively encouraged discrimination in the workplace.

Job applicants should be judged solely on their ability to do a job, not on extrinsic & irrelevant personal data gathered by unscrupulous employers.

The following are a few suggestions for the “LOL” crowd to consider, to safeguard online content from prying eyes:

  1. Screen and choose your online content prudently
  2. Befriend only people you know and trust
  3. Assume that any online content you generate is indelible
  4. Create a separate online Professional/Personal profile
  5. Consider a pseudonym for your profile that you share only with friends
  6. Change your password and check your privacy settings regularly
  7. Facebook and similar social networking sites are “windows to you”
  8. Don’t give an employer a reason not to hire or fire you..they don’t need one!
  9. Don’t use company computers/PDA’s for personal communication
  10. Have fun, network responsibly and most importantly..”REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE!”

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