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Can comments about a company on social media come back to haunt you?

Rejecting candidates for comments made in the past
recruitment
Many employers look at social media posts to assess job candidates. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Brian Kreissl

This week’s discussion is a little different from some of my previous posts in that I don’t actually have an answer to the question I’m posing. Basically, I am asking if comments made about a company on social media can ever come back to haunt you if you ever apply for a job with the company.

I’m hoping some readers will have thoughts on this topic. I would also like to generate some discussion of this issue on social media.

In many ways, HR practitioners are known to be somewhat conservative and reluctant to speak publicly about controversial issues. While I’m an HR practitioner by profession, I am in a somewhat unique position in that I work for a media and publishing company focused primarily on legal publishing, and I do create content for public consumption.

Journalists and legal publishing

Because of that, I feel at times like some of the opinions I share on this blog might be a little controversial given my background as an HR professional. Unlike my colleagues at Canadian HR Reporter, I am not a journalist by profession. I’m also in a slightly different position from my lawyer colleagues, although I also have a legal background and much of the content I write has a legal slant.

This is important because the legal publishing business isn’t as worried about toeing the line as some industries and professions (HR being one example). For example, when writing about case law with awkward or embarrassing facts, we don’t shy away from disclosing the names of the companies or individuals involved.

Legal proceedings are a matter of public record and the style of cause (case name) for a court case, arbitration or tribunal decision generally includes the actual parties’ names. Because court decisions usually include findings of fact, it is reasonable to rely on those findings when reporting on a decision. Sometimes the facts of the case can be quite embarrassing for the parties involved.

Things are similar for journalists, who don’t shy away from exposing the truth and discussing issues of the day. This applies whether they’re writing an opinion piece or simply reporting on the news.

I’m sure this can cause some awkward situations when customers, clients, advertisers or other stakeholders are in the news, but ethical journalists are required to maintain impartiality and a separation between advertising and editorial. We walk a similar line on the legal publishing side, and I can remember one former colleague – an HR professional – feeling somewhat uncomfortable with some of the legal content we published that named names.

Above all, it is important to include facts of these decisions and most legal cases include the identities of the parties. I personally believe leaving out those details eliminates important context for readers, and the facts of cases are often highly engaging and relevant.

Case law and summaries frequently serve as cautionary tales to others facing similar issues, and I believe this is particularly important in the area of employment law. I also firmly believe bad things can happen to good companies, and once an organization becomes large enough it is basically inevitable someone is going to try to sue it at some point.

I don’t think employers should take the reporting of facts or the expression of an opinion as an attack. Nevertheless, as an HR practitioner, I sometimes worry if any of the content I’ve written will ever come back to haunt me. That is important for HR, marketing and communications professionals, who are often seen as the public face of their organizations.

Critical comments made on social media

However, you don’t need to be a journalist or writer to worry about this sort of thing. What if you once made a critical comment about a company on social media? Will that disqualify you from ever working for that organization?

In many ways, this is similar to my previous post asking whether we can ever truly escape our pasts. While some comments are particularly egregious, should someone be barred from employment with the organization years later because they criticized an advertising campaign, a plant closure, the acquisition of a beloved brand by another company or commented on a legal case involving the organization?

I personally think we shouldn’t be held to the same high standards prior to employment as during it, but others may feel differently.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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