New Guidance: Snooping on Employees Via Social Media Is a Bad Idea

Are you an employer who spends hour wondering about your staff’s social networking habits? If so, you should resist the urge to check up on them according to a new guide.

Are you an employer who spends hour wondering about your staff’s social networking habits? If so, you should resist the urge to check up on them according to a new guide.

According to their website, Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) “aim [s] to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. We help with employment relations by supplying up-to-date information, independent advice and high quality training, and working with employers and employees to solve problems and improve performance.” Acas is governed by an independent council and claims to offer impartial and confidential services that help both employers and employees. Their services include a free telephone help line and advice on their website.

According to a new guide titled Workplaces and Social Networking: The Implications for Employment Relations, employers should resist the urge to check up on employees by browsing their social media profiles.

Even before someone is hired, social media could be an issue for employers. As any contract worker knows, it is important to have a clean professional presence online because one never knows who might be perusing your profile. However, according to Acas employers should avoid checking potential employees’ online profiles. Not only is the practice tacky, it raises ethical questions, and these questions, in turn, lead to potential legal issues. The guide notes: “Given the amount of information available about candidates on social network sites, employers leave themselves open to charges of discrimination (Lynas 2007). By vetting candidates online, employers are likely to know a range of information about candidates including sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, marital status, age and political views, making it easier for rejected candidates to claim they have been discriminated against (Lynas 2007, Personnel Today 2010).”

The guide doesn’t change its stance once an employee is hired. According to the guide, 55% of workers access social networks at work via computers or mobile devices every day. If this is the case, shouldn’t employers be stricter about employees’ social media use? According to the guide, the answer is no.

John Taylor, Acas’s Chief Executive notes that “if an employer is too tough, they need to consider the potential impact of any negative publicity. Heavy-handed monitoring can cause bad feeling and be time consuming.” He continues: “A manager wouldn’t follow an employee down the pub to check on what he or she said to friends about their day at work. Just because they can do something like this online, doesn’t mean they should.”

It’s a practical piece of advice; however, the analogy may not fit. While a frustrated employee venting at a pub isn’t such a big deal, an employee venting on social media can be. So, what should employers do to regulate their employees’ social networking habits? According to Acas, the key is policy development. Acas notes that while policies don’t protect against every possible problem which may arise from social media use, they do set up clear boundaries and guidelines for both employers and employees. So, if you’re an employer, stop creeping on your employee’s Facebook profile and start setting up some boundaries –for you and for the company.