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Use of Social Media: The Pitfalls and Problems in Today’s World of Human Resources (by Jocelyn DeBacker)

For many of us, our lives are an open book, or perhaps more like a daily broadcast to the world of the minutiae of our existence. When I grew up in the Philippines it was all about constantly texting my friends, but when I moved to America, I discovered social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and now the business-oriented LinkedIn. I often ask myself – “do I really need to post a picture of everything I eat or all the places that I go to”? 

The reality of oversharing can certainly lead some people to have problems in the work environment or when they apply for a job as it is clear that people today seem obsessed with oversharing their lives on social media. There are guides online for advice as to how often a person should post on social media, but these seem geared to people who try to make a living by being “influencers” or businesses that need product awareness. These sites say that you should not post more than once a day, but they don’t seem to address the issue of the content that is being displayed and the impact that it might have on your job and employment.

Many businesses make it a point, as part of the background checks in hiring, to examine a prospective employee’s social media accounts. While this may seem like a serious invasion of privacy, it is in reality a very common practice. The question of course is whether it is legal for a company to require you to divulge your social media accounts. 

A few states in the country have now passed laws to stop companies from requiring this information – including California. According to Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor from the website XpertHR, California passed the law AB 1844 to "protect Californians from unwarranted invasions of their social media accounts." This restriction does not affect situations involving employees breaking the law or misusing company property. However, if the employee is posting from company equipment, on company time, or is in any way divulging company information they could be fired for their posts. Of course, any posts that break the rules concerning harassment, racism, or illegality would be cause for dismissal.

In other states, such as New York, employers have the right to “ask employees to turn over their usernames and passwords” and with this information, they can see all posts those potential employees have made. This then brings up the question are employees protected by the free speech guarantees of the first amendment? 

The short answer to that is – no. According to the law firm Moshes Law, P.C., “the 1st amendment does not automatically protect any form or expression of speech because it only prevents the federal or state government from interfering; it does not protect the private sector, which consists of most employers.” It is also clear from a reading of the first amendment that there is no direct mention of a right to privacy. It seems that any information willingly posted on social media is available to the public.

Given all the potential pitfalls in the world of social media, it would be nice if there were some simple rules regarding what should or should not be posted online. Some things would appear to me to be so blatantly obvious that they should go without saying. Does anyone in a professional position need to be warned not to post graphic images of themselves involved in questionable behavior or wild political rants about fringe beliefs? 

These types of activities can certainly have an impact on your employability – whether it is truly “fair” or not. But HR professionals have given advice to potential employees as to what should be appropriate usage of social media. For example, the website for the Canadian Business Development Bank gives this advice to employees: 

  • Separate personal and professional use online; 
  • Use disclaimers saying their opinions and comments do not necessarily reflect the point of view of your company or its management; 
  • Think before you post;
  • Respect copyright; 
  • Avoid revealing personal information such as pictures and anecdotes. 
These simple suggestions should help keep employees out of trouble and make the job of HR professionals easier. In today’s world, with so much shared online by people, should companies have the right to access employees' social media accounts? Or, should it be the employees' responsibility to ensure that they do not overshare and jeopardize their own careers?

About the Author:

DeBacker is a student at Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona University and currently working as a front desk agent at the Embassy Suites by Hilton. Hospitality is her greatest passion as she enjoyed meeting new people at work and in school. Jocelyn is an immigrant from the Philippines, the first generation in the family to go and finish college. She currently maintained her dean's lister honors as a Collins college student. She and her husband love traveling and hiking and make it a point to try new restaurants and stay in cool hotels wherever they travel. Jocelyn’s inspiration is her husband, her whole family in the Philippines, and her passion for education and Hospitality.

Work References

Moshes, Yuriy. Knowing Your Rights Regarding Workplace Social Media Policies. 06 May 2021. 02 March 2022. https://mosheslaw.com/knowing-your-rights-regarding-workplace-social-media-policies/.

Salamander, Gil. he Frequency Guide: How Often To Post On Social Media. 6 March 2022. https://eclincher.com/the-frequency-guide-how-often-to-post-on-social-media/.

Social media in the Workplace: What to Include in a Social Media Policy. 05 March 2022. https://www.bdc.ca/en/articles-tools/employees/manage/managing-social-media-tips-ensure-appropriate-employee-use.

Zoller, Beth. California Passes Law Prohibiting Employers from Requestion Social Media Passwords and Information. 01 March 2022. https://www.xperthr.com/news/california-passes-law-prohibiting-employers-from-requesting-social-media-passwords-and-information/7966/.

Picture Sourcehttps://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/screening-social-media-discrimination-claims.aspx

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