Social Networking and Privacy in the Workplace

by Thom Tracy

2 min read

Social media sites make it easier than ever for people to stay connected. They help friends stay in touch, and allow businesses to find new customers and reach out to potential employees. Many companies use social media to learn more about prospective hires or monitor what current employees are doing off the clock. However, monitoring employees on social media raises privacy concerns. For example, every Canadian province has laws that restrict, on at least some level, the monitoring of employee email and social media messages, even those sent and received on company computers. Moreover, placing broad restrictions on what your employees can post on their private social media accounts stifles creativity.

Social Media Monitoring

Social media monitoring involves scanning the profiles of current and prospective employees on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and looking for material that suggests illegal or unscrupulous activities, or that paints your company in a bad light. For example, if your business is a nonprofit organization that advocates for social justice, and a prospective hire’s Facebook page includes a racially-charged meme, you might decide this person isn’t a good fit for your organization. While social media monitoring is effective in some capacity, give careful consideration to not violating privacy laws. Also, refrain from stifling creativity or creating an oppressive workplace culture where employees feel unable to express ideas that don’t rigidly conform to company doctrine.

Privacy Concerns

Every Canadian province has laws that protect employee privacy on email and social media. Even when sending and receiving emails or social media messages on company computers, employees are protected on at least a limited level from their bosses’ prying eyes. In some jurisdictions, businesses can monitor computer usage provided they have a reason for doing so and they make their intentions known. Other jurisdictions offer employees more robust privacy protection. Knowing these laws and how they apply to your company’s province and jurisdiction can save you trouble and potentially a lawsuit in the event that a disgruntled employee retaliates against your business.

Benefits of Not Monitoring

Maintaining a hands-off policy for employee social media use offers benefits. You probably won’t discover illegal activities or anything that puts your business at actual risk by scanning social media pages. With a few exceptions, most people are smart enough to keep that stuff off social media, or at the very least put privacy controls in place so only a select audience can see it. What you’re more likely to find are posts that certain people may find offensive or that contradict the prevailing ideology of the company. Before disciplining workers or denying potential employees for such posts, ask yourself if you really want a workplace culture that demands complete loyalty to established doctrine. Studies indicate that businesses where free thought and creativity are given room to reign are more productive and profitable than autocratic businesses, often by a large degree. Remember your employees are people with their own backgrounds, ideas, and perspectives, not just cogs in the wheel. Ask yourself if their private activities on social media really affect their ability to do their jobs.

References & Resources

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