Social Media Could Cut Both Ways | DCR Workforce Blog

Social Media Could Cut Both Ways

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD as something that has or can have both favorable and unfavorable consequences.  If used without care, social media could offer very similar results for individuals and businesses alike. A case in point would be the story of how a family lost every penny of the $80000 won by the father in a confidential legal settlement. The father shared the news with his daughter, and she posted a gloating reference to it on Facebook, and broke the confidentiality clause. For the full story, click here.


Using social media, it is far easier to connect with people, share things of interest (to you). Unfortunately, when sharing personal information, likes and dislikes, hobbies and pet peeves the ‘bonding’ could turn into ‘harassment’ at the workplace.

The EEOC has decided to enlighten employers, employees and applicants of the pervasive nature of social media and the threat it poses to the EEOC’s mission to stop discriminatory practices in the workplace. If you wish to report any particular issues at the workplace which require further regulations to the use of social media, do email them to the EEOC: Your views and experiences could impact forthcoming policy.

Before doing so, take a look at what the EEOC prescribes:

Appropriate use of Social Media in the Workplace:

  • Employee engagement
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Sharing information on programs and policies across work locations
  • Marketing to clients and potential customers
  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Seeking feedback to understand market perception
  • Managing crises
  • Recruitment of new employees (In 2013, 77% companies have said they used social media for the purpose of hiring new employees)
  • Background checking using only publicly available information – Use with caution!

Risk-prone Employer use of Social Media in the Workplace:

  • Background Checks using social media done by hiring managers (Having it done by a 3rd party or a person who is not involved in the recruitment process is a better option. Any of the person’s publicly shared attributes like age or religious beliefs could help to substantiate charges of discrimination against the employer)
  • Asking for passwords to social media accounts (discussed ad nauseam over the last 2 years or more. At present, 33 states have either made it illegal already or will do so in the near future. Employees’ personal social media accounts are also being protected by using the 30 year-old federal Stored Communications Act (SCA), which prohibits intentional, unauthorized access to electronic information)
  • Using information posted on social media to harass a coworker; creating a hostile work environment
  • Using social media to harass a coworker
  • Using employer-issued devices for any of the above two activities
  • Taking action against an employee for any activity that is lawful, conducted off-duty and not job-related.
  • Accessing the medical history of a job applicant or employee
  • Violating an employee or job applicant’s statutory or common law privacy protection
  • Violating National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regulations that prohibit businesses from setting overly broad requirements aimed at preventing worker criticism.  The courts routinely uphold the rights of workers to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.
  • Dismissing an employee for posting negative comments about the workplace

Employers can and should adapt their current workplace policies to address these issues and train their employees on the pitfalls of using social media for work-related purposes.

Surely, this is an evolving area of law which will continue to see changes. Regulations are unclear and subject to interpretation.  The best guidance at this point is to be specific.  In restricting what should be posted, follow Wal-Mart’s approach and state that you are restricting discriminatory remarks, harassment and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct.  Be consistent.  Educate your recruiters on what candidate information can be gleaned from social sites, when a candidate’s public social sites can be reviewed (preferably after the candidate has been interviewed and is a finalist), and the type of information that is cause for eliminating a candidate.  Regulations generally follow common sense rules:  if it is prohibited in traditional settings (e.g., workers in a brick and mortar setting, recruiters using traditional sourcing techniques) then it should not be allowed using social media.  Finally, when unsure seek advice from a reputable employment attorney or check with the EEOC.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.