Earlier this week, Chuck Rothman attended the Ethical & Legal Aspects of Workplace Social Media Seminar presented by the Ted Rogers School of Business, and sponsored by the Ethics Practitioners Association of Canada.
Since the speakers and the majority of the audience were lawyers, most of the discussion centred around the legal implications of employees’ use of social media. There were also thought-provoking discussions about ethical considerations surrounding limiting employees’ access to social media. Mark Crestohl of TD Bank expertly summed up the difference between law and ethics as the difference between what you can do and what you should do.
Social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are changing society in ways that most people don’treally appreciate. While most social media users use the tools to carry on the same discussions they did through verbal communications a few years ago, the difference is that posting a comment to Facebook results in that comment being disseminated faster and to a much broader audience. And it remains available for people to see long after the discussion has ended.
Take, for example, an employee who is not too fond of his supervisor. If that employee meets a couple of his friends at a bar after work and complains about the supervisor, the discussion remains limited to a small group of people, and a few hours or days later, it is pretty much forgotten. If that same employee goes home and posts the exact same comment to his Facebook page, the number of people who see it is much greater (assuming the employee has more Facebook friends than drinking friends), and the posting remains on his page until he deletes it, something rarely done.
Just as social media usage increases, social media workplace policies are becoming more common to protect employer rights and guide employees in their obligations. These policies should focus on the information that is being disseminated, not the method. It doesn’t matter what medium is used to post unacceptable comments, the comments are still unacceptable. The policy should tell employees both what is not acceptable, and what is acceptable. It should also make clear when an employer’s interests are engaged, especially with the profusion of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) at many workplaces.
An employer should also consider how the company uses social media, especially when it comes to hiring. Examining a candidate’s Facebook site may seem prudent to ensure the person’s character, but could the employer be accused of discrimination based on what they obtained? Clear guidelines should be set up on why and how a candidate’s social media content should be considered in the hiring practice.