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Employees, Should You Really Tweet That? Social Media in the Workplace & Beyond


Social media is a way of life and work. It connects us to each other and to people and resources that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. But the distinction between personal and professional lives on social media is often blurred, making the enforcement of equal employment opportunity laws complex.

Should an employer have the right to request an employee’s Facebook password? Currently, 12 states ban the practice. The issues of social media in the workplace span across HR, legal and management, and involve concerns about discrimination, recruitment, screening and background checks, hiring, harassment, social media policies and discovery for legal proceedings.

“Equal employment opportunity law is increasingly touched by the advance of social media,” said Jacqueline A. Berrien, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Chair at an EEOC meeting this past March. The meeting focused on the legal issues surrounding social media in the workplace and included a panel of attorneys discussing how social media complicates the enforcement of equal employment opportunity laws.

According to recent research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), only 30 percent of the organizations surveyed that use social media or online searches as part of their recruiting and selection process have used information that came from online search engines and/or social networking websites to disqualify job applicants.

It’s important to remember that regardless of where employers obtain information about a person’s race, sex, disability or other protected status, hiring decisions cannot be based on that information, even if it did come from social media.

It’s difficult in ways that aren’t always apparent to separate personal and public lives for people who use social media for work, as their profiles are linked through various platforms. This is especially true of milliennials and employees who work in the world of online media and communications.

Of course employees and job applicants should use social media responsibly because even posts that you think are private are out of your control once they are online. Of note is that the EEOC does not plan to issue any regulations or guidance on the use of social media in the workplace, rather, the purpose of their meeting was to open a discussion about the importance of social media and its impact on employment law.

Renee Jackson, an attorney with Nixon Peabody in San Francisco, shared sage advice for employers to use social media as part of a recruitment plan that also includes traditional media and referrals. Jackson further advised employers “not to ask applicants or employees for their private user names or passwords and insert language that encompasses social media into the employer’s code of conduct and harassment policies.”

Social media changes at a pace faster than most people who don’t work in the field can keep up with. It is important to ensure employees, especially supervisors and managers, understand that their friendships with subordinates on social media may encumber them with additional responsibilities under the law.

Access to the EEOC meeting transcript, video and Twitter feed is available online.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonahowie / CC BY 2.0

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jessica McKenzie, MS published on September 8, 2014 2:34 PM.

Things That Make You Go Hmm – Recognition Style was the previous entry in this blog.

A Student Perspective on Work & Well-Being 2014: Chicago is the next entry in this blog.

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