The changing labor relations laws of workplace social networking

I saw this post not too long ago come across my Facebook feed: “The best part about being over 40 is that we did our stupid stuff before the Internet.”

It is very true. But what is interesting is how our legal system is adjusting to people that want to find all this “stupid stuff” of those under 40, especially as it relates to their on-the-job performance.

Has this happened to you lately? You are interviewing for a job and things are going well. The interviewer asks you about any social media postings that you want to tell them about. You think to yourself, “thank goodness I was smart enough to have tightened all my privacy controls. There is no way that anyone can view any of my questionable pictures who isn’t part of my network.” As you are mulling over a response, the interviewer turns her laptop around to face you and ask you to login to your Facebook account. What do you do now? Gulp.

Well, it depends on what state you live in and what kind of privacy laws they have passed. A dozen states have laws restricting employer access to personal social media accounts of both potential job applicants as well as their employees. These laws try to restrict how an employer can ask for login credentials or have you login to your account in their presence or grant access to information that isn’t in a public online search. Similar legislation is pending in at least another 28 states, and Congress might even get into the act too. The National Conference of State Legislatures is keeping track here. They say:

Some employers argue that access to personal accounts is needed to protect proprietary information or trade secrets, to comply with federal financial regulations, or to prevent the employer from being exposed to legal liabilities. But others consider requiring access to personal accounts an invasion of employee privacy.

The legislation in some states extends to students at public colleges too. The laws restrict employers from requiring employees to friend a supervisor or even adjust their privacy settings on their account. Double gulp!

As you can imagine, the state laws vary in what activities are prohibited and what aren’t. “However, while state laws differ significantly, the general message is clear: employers must evaluate their current practices and policies to ensure compliance with these law,” says a recent article in Socially Aware, a newsletter from the legal firm of Morrison Foerster.

The newsletter article goes on to discuss several other aspects of the legislation, including what happens during workplace investigations of suspected wrongdoings or employee misconduct. To say that this is a legal minefield is an understatement. Clearly, if you haven’t implemented social media guidelines yet in your workplace, now would be a good time. You might also enjoy reading a piece that I wrote for ReadWrite a few years ago about creating social media playbooks.

And you might also ask for some help from Liz Brown Bullock, who created a lot of social media policies and trained thousands of folks when she was at Dell.


One thought on “The changing labor relations laws of workplace social networking

  1. Good post David, you raise some interesting posts. But I have to say, if a company asked me to login to my Facebook account during an interview, it would be a quick end to the interview from my end. That is a clear invasion of privacy — same as asking to look at my phone text messages or come into my house to look around. Any “public” messages are fair game for the employer to peruse — tweets, LinkedIn updates, blog posts, etc.

    Good interviewers don’t need to look at that…they can judge you by interviewing you with good questions and doing their reference checks (seems like a lost art it seems).

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