Social media has many positive aspects. It has improved our ability to recruit, research, share knowledge, and check references. But, it also has burdened us with worry about what employees are doing on and off the job, even before making an offer to a job candidate.
There are many questions swirling around social media dos and don’ts. What can employers use in their decision making process when looking at a potential hire’s post? What are the rules about current employees’ social media activities?
The first place for an employer to start is to have a comprehensive plan of what their social media policy covers, then communicate and enforce it consistently for all employees.
Social Media and the Hiring Process
There is valuable information on social media pages that you can use to consider a person for employment (or for rejection). However, some information, as informative as it is, is off-limits for decision making.
- Example: A job candidate has posted information about his medical condition and the company recruiter has used this information to filter out this applicant due to concern about the candidate likely having an attendance problem.
Recruiters and others in the position of making employment decisions should be instructed not to request, access, or use information related to a protected category in their hiring process and/or decision.
If you are going to check out social media posts of potential candidates, follow these guidelines:
- It’s illegal to use information related to a candidate’s age, disability, sex, and other federal, state, or local protected categories to make employment decisions.
- Never ask for social media passwords. Only look at content that is public.
- Have HR do the review, not the hiring manager or supervisor.
- Be consistent. Check out either all or none of your applicants’ social media profiles.
- Print out content used as a reason for rejection and hang on to it for documentation.
Your Role as the Social Media Police
Knowing the rules of your organization’s social media policy—and enforcing them—can get tricky. Each complaint needs to be checked out, considered for a violation, and acted upon quickly.
- Example: An employee complains to HR about another employee’s post on Facebook, where the co-worker was wearing a t-shirt that the other employee finds offensive and in direct contradiction to his values. He says he’s uncomfortable working with this co-worker now that this information has been made public.
Promoting a workplace that embraces tolerance, diversity, and respect is a goal of all HR professionals. With that said, an employer cannot control what an employee does, says, or wears on his or her own time. However, if it has been found that an employee has acted on such beliefs or made statements at work in violation of company policy, disciplinary action can be taken.
Be sure to conduct regular workforce education regarding your company’s anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies, as well as the organization’s policy against offensive actions or messages. Emphasize what behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable in the workplace.
- Example: An employee consistently violates the social media policy by posting pictures of the workplace on Facebook talking about the poor quality of parts being made by her employer. HR confronts her but she says repeatedly "what she does on her time is her business."
Employees need to understand that talking poorly about the organization, and using a profile that identifies him or her as an employee, can harm the business, pose a conflict of interest and perhaps a violation of the standards of conduct.
While some posts and comments pertaining to wages and working conditions are protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employees cannot post discriminatory, violent, threatening, sexually explicit, or vulgar messages. Discipline, up to termination, may be warranted. Because of the ambiguities surrounding this issue, employers are encouraged to consult with legal counsel on termination decisions of this nature.
- Example: Employee posts a tweet about a "lousy raise."
Don’t overreact and immediately take corrective action. The NLRA protects all employees, not just employees in a union, who discuss working conditions including compensation. It is recommended that you use this as an opportunity to sit down with the employee to discuss his or her pay concerns.
However, if the employee tweets about lousy pay and then says the supervisor "will be made to regret" that decision, the content of that post has just turned into a potential threat. Threats of violence or harassment are not protected by the NLRA and employers can—and should—conduct an investigation and possible corrective action.
- Example: An employee out on FMLA leave posts her vacation photos on Facebook—and the content suggests she is healthy and well.
A best practice in this scenario is to discuss the post with the employee. The employee’s health or restrictions may not be compromised by her actions, but it is acceptable to discuss the issue. This situation may necessitate sharing the facts with legal counsel if the employer believes termination is appropriate.
Social media is here to stay. And employees are frequently ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, so it’s important to be proactive and beef-up your social media know-how. But don’t forget, MRA is always available to guide you—we have sample policies and best practices we are pleased to share.
Source: Lisa Ziebell, HR Business Advisor, MRA – The Management Association