Ideal Waste of Time: Social Media and its Seismic Shift in the Workplace
By Shaun Bernstein
Employees use social media at work. It is not uncommon for most employees to have a cell phone at their desk that flashes with the occasional instant message, or a quick glance at one’s Facebook page after sending an e-mail. For the most part, this is harmless conduct, except for some small amounts of wasted time. But what about when social media usage at work is not so innocent?
Last year, an employee at a Mr. Lube location in Vaughan tweeted out that he was looking for marijuana to help get him through his shift. Local police not only caught wind of the tweet, they too replied through Twitter. The employee was terminated within the week. In 2012 Ontario Human Rights Tribunal case, racially insensitive comments made on an employee’s Facebook page about a co-worker were found to be damaging, and had injured the person’s dignity. The Tribunal ordered the employee to undergo human rights training.
While these may be rare examples, the truth is that the lines about social media in the workplace have blurred considerably. Social media usage is no longer relegated to a clunky desktop computer. Nearly every handheld device today has instant access to a variety of applications to connect an employee to the world beyond their office walls. At its best, social media usage in the workplace can be a powerful business marketing tool. However, employers should protect themselves from some of the pitfalls workplace usage can lead to with solid social media policies.
Social media at its finest has become a powerful marketing tool for organizations today. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have allowed small businesses to build an influential word-of-mouth following without spending an extra dime, while providing the option for influential paid advertising to appear seamlessly into a consumer’s browsing activities at a relatively low cost. They also allow businesses to instantly release content including blogs, marketing materials, image galleries, media appearances, etc. Businesses that never before had an online presence are now hiring social media experts to manage this presence and ensure anything posted on behalf of the organization has a maximum impact.
There are, of course, obvious burdens involved with social media usage in the workplace – namely the amount of time one can waste by simply being idle. Even if Facebook was originally signed into for business purposes, it can become far too easy to waste otherwise productive time on eye-catching links and instant messages from old friends. The same is true of Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other social media platform, even text messages.
Another concern for employers is the lack of monitoring of content, both from customers as well as employees. Poor social media, especially third party reviews, can be detrimental to a brand’s image if they are seen by a wider audience. Businesses must stay on top of any negative reviews posted online, and can counter any attacks by responding quickly, or contacting the reviewer privately to rectify the situation.
Employers must also be careful about using social media during the hiring process as well. Looking into an employee’s social media profiles before or after an interview is acceptable, but employers must be cautious if they learn something about an employee that could fall under a protected human rights ground. For example, learning that a potential hire is pregnant (though the candidate does not disclose this during the interview) and then choosing not to proceed with the hire, could leave the employers vulnerable to a human rights complaint – even if the pregnancy had nothing to do with the hiring decision.
Employers can request potential candidates for social media passwords, however candidates are under no legal obligation to provide passwords. Employers though are then permitted to not hire candidates who do not comply with any policies, but of course any hiring decisions made are still subject to human rights codes.
The key for employers to navigating the social media waters is good workplace policies. Social media can be an effective marketing tool and can help keep both consumers and employees engaged, but it is up to the employer to determine how it should and should not be used. The following are some simple tips employers can use to ensure social media policies are following best practices:
- Clearly define what constitutes “social media” and what the scope of the policy will be (computers used at work, business-owned devices used outside the office, personal devices used for business, etc)
- Determine if the policy will be linked to any other policies (eg: workplace harassment)
- The amount of social media usage for personal use that is acceptable in the workplace (i.e: on lunch, shift breaks, etc)
- A statement outlining that individuals are held responsible for their individual posts
- A clear explanation of who will be monitoring social media, including management or IT personnel, and the consequences of any policy violations
Employees should sign off on this policy, and be trained on it effectively to ensure social media and personal technologies are used in the workplace for the business’ benefit, as well as for the employee’s enjoyment. When used effectively, social media is more than just fun – it may be the best free marketing tool that a business has seen in years.
Our Legal and HR teams are not just social media experts themselves. They are adept at crafting social media policies that best suit the needs of your business, and ensuring that policies already in place keep your business well-protected. Contact us today for help reviewing your policies, or to set up social media training for your organization.