More than ever before, people are connecting with one another
online. As a result of the proliferation of social media sites like
Facebook®, LinkedIn®, MySpace® and Twitter®,
individuals have the ability to create personal profiles and
exchange e-mails, pictures, files and instant messages on the
Internet. This article addresses some common questions employers
ask about social media sites.
Q. Are social media sites used in the
A. Yes. Some employers develop their own
internal social media sites to assist employees in working together
or for the purpose of sharing company information. In many cases,
social media sites are accessed by employees at work for personal
Q. Why should you be concerned about
employees' use of social media sites for personal reasons?
A. One major concern is loss of productivity. A
2007 study by Richard Cullen of SurfControl, an Internet-filtering
company, estimates that Facebook® may be costing
Australian businesses $5 billion a year. A second major concern
revolves around privacy issues.
Q. What privacy concerns do social media sites
raise for employers?
A. You need to be aware that monitoring
potential or existing employees through personal or work-based
social media sites may be subject to privacy legislation applicable
in your jurisdiction. In British Columbia, for example, employers
are restricted in their ability to collect, use and disclose
employee personal information without an employee's
Q. How do these privacy concerns manifest
A. Many employers use Internet search engines,
personal websites and blogs to discover information about
prospective employees. You should be aware that even publicly
available social media site pages may contain inaccurate or
outdated personal information. Equally, you must be extremely
hesitant about relying upon such information. You should also not
use personal information obtained from such sites in a
discriminatory manner against prospective employees.
In addition, most employees view their personal social media
site pages as private. Employees are often unaware that personal
information posted on these sites may be accessible by their
employers and co-workers. Any organization that monitors its
employees' use of social media sites must ensure that its
employees are aware of this practice.
Q. What are the possible consequences to you of
inappropriate use of employee personal information on social media
A. An employer that uses an employee's
personal information, obtained from a social media site without
that employee's consent or in a discriminatory manner, could
face privacy or human rights complaints, a workplace grievance
under a collective agreement, and negative publicity.
Q. How should you minimize the risks associated
with social media sites?
A. Employers should develop and communicate to
all employees a clear policy on the appropriate use of social media
sites. The policy should cover:
whether work-based or personal use of social media sites is
permissible in the workplace;
under what circumstances, and when (e.g., unpaid breaks) social
media sites may be used;
a description of acceptable and unacceptable use of social
whether the employer monitors social media sites;
whether privacy legislation applies to the collection, use and
disclosure of personal information in the workplace; and
the consequence of failure to abide by the policy.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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