Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, LinkedIn and many others have become increasingly popular not only for social purposes, but also as tools to assist in job hunting and business networking. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware that, as useful as these social media sites may be, there also lurks hidden dangers for the online ‘socialite’.
Studies have shown a growing trend also amongst businesses to make use of the multitude of available social sites, including a growing frequency in using these sites for background checks and screening of potential and existing employees. Many employment agencies also include social media screening as part of their background verification of potential employment candidates.
The South African approach to the use of social media in employment situations is still developing, with limited guidance by our courts to use as reference. The growing trend for employers to keep tabs on their employees’ social media interactions will however in time grow the reference base for the use of social media and help clarify what can and cannot be used against an employee.
In a recent South African decision the Judge relied on information posted on an ex-employee’s LinkedIn online account as evidence that this employee did indeed foster a relationship with his previous employer’s clients. It has also become a growing practice to utilise information on social media sites, including status updates or twitter feeds, as evidence in support of legal cases.
It is therefore more and more apparent that managing your online presence and filtering what you post on social media sites is crucially important, and that a casual approach to online ‘socializing’ could hold serious consequences for an employee. The following guidelines can help in identifying online posts that could pose a danger to you:
- Negative, insulting, inaccurate or inappropriate statements pertaining to your boss, your colleagues, your company, your products, your suppliers or customers, or even your competitors may very well get you fired.
- Posting or being tagged in inappropriate pictures or posting remarks that conflict with the company’s vision, mission and values, may have a negative influence on your company’s image and is also best avoided.
- Posting status updates or photos whilst being on sick leave or posting pictures of attending non-work related social events during working hours may give your employer grounds for accusing you of misconduct.
- Posting confidential or sensitive information that relates to your job or company or clients could jeopardize the company and its clients and should also be avoided at all times.
These guidelines are not meant to discourage social engagement, but rather highlight the need to be cautious and sensitive to acceptable social media usage. With information available at a click of a button, special care needs to be taken to avoid misuse thereof.
As an employee, the following tips should be kept in mind when managing your social profiles:
- Know the company’s social media policy. Many companies have these in place and these policies generally govern the employees’ usage of social media platforms. Make sure that the content of this policy is understood by you and ensure that your profiles and postings comply with these policies.
- Check your privacy settings. Most social media sites have ways to control who can view your profile and who is restricted. Take care in considering who you grant access to your profile and your content.
- Monitor your profiles regularly, checking for photo’s or posts that are not in line with your company’s policies. This way tags or unwanted posts of any nature can be removed before causing problems for you in your workplace.
Whether you are a junior employee or a member of management, the same rules apply – you represent the company and even your conduct on social media sites can hurt and impact the name and reputation of the company and in turn impact on your employment with the company.
For employers, note should be taken of the dangers lurking on social media sites and the unregulated use thereof by employees. Obtain legal advice and assistance to help develop appropriate social media usage policies that regulate the acceptable use by your employees of social media.