By Harpaul Sambhi
This is the final instalment looking at the legal impact of social media and HR. My next few posts will be looking at innovative ways to recruit via social media, something I’ve seen a lot with my work at Careerify.
First, let’s take a closer look at employee conduct via social media. An employee’s conduct at work, as well as during his personal time, can impact employers. However, case law has so far shown employers will have a hard time disciplining or terminating employees who complain about their managers’ organizations on social media, or conduct themselves in an embarrassing or even criminal way online.
An employer would have to prove the comments or activities damaged its business interests. This is easier to show if the employee is a senior member of the organization who, by virtue of his position, must maintain an appropriate image because his reputation is tied to the organization.
However, employers can and should inform employees of what is appropriate and inappropriate conduct on social media, especially if employees’ profiles or blogs are open to the public and can be connected to the organization in any way. Most employees are simply unaware that posting something on Facebook could in any way harm the organization.
A good rule of thumb for employees is to not put anything on social media that they are not willing to say to their employer. If employees are conducting business on social networks, such as LinkedIn, they should be educated that interactions are no different than other communications means, such as email or live chat.
As discussed before, organizations should monitor social media sites to see what users are saying about an organization so problems and concerns can be addressed before they spiral out of control. A social media policy should inform employees the employer will be doing this to make them think twice about posting something borderline inappropriate on Twitter or Facebook.
Employees may purposely or inadvertently harass co-workers via social media by making disparaging or disrespectful comments about co-workers. Employers have a legal obligation to protect workers from harassment and more and more jurisdictions are also instituting laws requiring employers to protect workers from workplace bullying, including cyber bullying. A social media policy should mention the organization’s harassment policy to ensure employees know harassment in the virtual world won’t be tolerated.
Previously, I discussed how companies such as Xerox take a proactive approach in learning more about complaints before things out of hand. It is important to proactively diffuse situations — even though one or two posts are innocent, the situation can get out of control. Take a look at these “I hate my job” searches on Twitter and OpenBook, a website that monitors public status updates on Facebook.
Employers should try not to overreact to social media posts from employees or the public. This is the least productive measure to take as emotions can cloud judgment and prevent you from being able to solve the problem.
Instead, interact with users to find out about their pain points and frustrations. It’s possible many other people have the same issues with the organization, so finding out more will help you address those issues and rectify them, if needed. Addressing the concern raised by an employee, rather than disciplining her for voicing her frustration, can turn an irate employee into an engaged champion of the organization.
Harpaul Sambhi is the CEO of Careerify, a company that develops social recruiting tools focused on employee referral programs with offices in Toronto and San Francisco. He is the author of Social HR, published by Carswell, which sheds insights in how social media is impacting human resources. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (416) 840-6216 or visit www.careerify.net for more information.