Social Media Boss: Should You Friend Your Employees?

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The following is a an example of a Human Resources blog post:

When you’re the boss, interacting with your employees on social media can be fraught with potential pitfalls.

As a manager, you want opportunities to talk with your employees in a fun, friendly way on an even playing field. Social media, at first blush, seems like an ideal locale. Not so fast. The informal and personal nature of social media actually presents serious issues. It's incredibly easy — and common — for managers to read sensitive information on employees that employees wouldn't otherwise volunteer under professional circumstances.

Protected Information

The root of the problem is that social media accounts often provide unfiltered access to personal information, which may include details that the employer does not need to see and cannot act upon. For example, social media can easily show if someone belongs to a protected group. Here are just a few real-world examples: - If an employee uses his or her social media account to join a charity or group related to fundraising for research to cure a medical condition, such as “Race for the Cure,” and writes, “This is for my mother!” as a post, the employer reading that seemingly innocuous post has just gained information about protected family medical history. - An employee’s national origin may not have been previously known, but could be discovered by the hometown listed on the employee’s social media profile. - A religious affiliation may be revealed through social media posts or group memberships.

Legal Discrimination

Some of these information breaches may seem innocuous, but these revelations can dramatically change workplace dynamics for the worse. Beyond social issues, there area also serious legal issues with this information being disclosed. Employees are protected from discrimination with laws like: - Title VII of the Civil Rights Act , which protects against discrimination based on national origin, religion, color, sex or race. - The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provides discrimination protection for disabled individuals. - The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which provides protections against employers having or using information about the employee’s family medical history. These are just a few examples; other federal, state, and local laws exist that provide further employee discrimination protections as well. Once the employer gains this type of knowledge, it opens the door for a discrimination claim, if an adverse action happens after the employer learns of the employee’s status. Even if the employer does not discriminate, merely having the information could spark a claim. This risk is substantial enough that many employers abandon social media on that rationale alone.

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Bridget M.

Bridget Miller is a writer and editor with a business background. She has a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She worked in the corporate world for many years before transitioning to writing, ...

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