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The Practical Employer

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Should you Check Your Employee's Social Media Accounts?

Do employers have a right to monitor employees’ social media accounts, or is this an invasion of their personal lives?

May 14, 2014
Related Topics: Social Media, Policies and Procedures, Legal, Technology
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Monday’s Wall Street Journal had a compelling counterpoint about whether employers should be checking their employees’ social media accounts. Nancy Flynn, the founder and executive director of the ePolicy Institute, presented the pro, while Lewis Maltby, the president of the National Workrights Institute, presented the con.

Flynn argued that keeping an eye on employees’ online activities helps companies help themselves.

Management has a right and responsibility to monitor how employees are using social media at all times. If companies don’t pay attention, they may end up facing any number of serious problems. It’s all too easy for disgruntled or tone-deaf employees to go onto social media and criticize customers, harass subordinates and otherwise misbehave. Sometimes that can bring workplace tensions and complaints, sometimes it can damage a company’s reputation in the marketplace, and sometimes it can lead all the way to lawsuits or regulatory action.

Maltby argued that examining employees’ online activities often results in an unreasonable fishing expedition.

Yes, employers have a legal right to monitor employees’ conduct on their work computers. But the only time employers have a legal duty to monitor employee communications is when the employer has reason to believe that the employee is engaged in illegal conduct.… The fact is, the vast majority of what employees do on the Internet has nothing to do with work, takes place during their private lives and is done on their personal computers. Once again, employers should get involved with employees’ private lives only when there is reason to be concerned.

Who’s right? Do employers have a right to monitor employees’ social media accounts, or is this an invasion of their personal lives? I believe that there is nothing private about social media. Even outside of work, what employees say on their not-so-private social pages can impact their employer. Do they post racist, sexist, or other inappropriate statements? Do they divulge confidential information about their workplace? Are they engaging in conduct that would.make them unfit for employment (like illegal drug use)? 

The reality is that employees who believe that what they say on their personal social media sites, away from the workplace, is off-limits to their employer, operate under a grand misconception. Like it or not, we live in a world where, thanks in large part to social media, the line between the personal sphere and the work sphere no long exists (or if it exists it’s really blurred). Employees that fail to recognize this fact take a huge risk.

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