The Legal Issues That Social Media Presents For Employers

Tax Professionals' Resource
November 7, 2012 — 1,454 views  
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The legal issues that social media presents for employers

Many non-profit organizations use social media to make the public aware of their causes. Social media changed the way publicity is created and word of mouth is spread. Communication is becoming increasingly important as the social networking trend grows. Most corporate employers create a social media policy that they expect their employees to follow and this is more important for non-profits that rely on public interaction for funding.

Social media is used in a number of legal and illegal ways. A primary example is employment screening by viewing the potential employee’s online profile. Unless social networking is in the job description, the majority of what is displayed on social profiles is sensitive information that is protected by discrimination laws. It is very difficult to prove that illegal discrimination based on sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, national origin or race didn’t occur when viewing the applicant’s profile. Profiles can be used as a basis of the employment provided they are all evaluated equally and not based on discrimination.

Another issue that arises is freedom of speech. While it isn’t illegal to monitor social accounts, it isn’t legal to use comments, statuses, or tweets as a basis for employment. There is a fine line, however, that can be outlined in a detailed policy that the employee agrees to upon hire. Reasonable policies that do not conflict with an employee’s legally protected rights are encouraged. The policies cannot affect rights to create unions, for example.

Policies on social media recommendations should also be included. Many social networks are employment based, such as LinkedIn, and periodically employees may request recommendations from their supervisors. Having a set policy on who does and does not get a recommendation and the types of things that can be said in the recommendation are put in place to avoid liability.

One of the biggest issues with social media employment laws is that many of them are vague or currently undefined. Because the internet is constantly changing, there are new ways to post and socialize online everyday. A good social media policy will be updated regularly and compliant with all state and federal laws. By having a proper policy in place, non-profit organizations can continue to use employee social networking to their advantage. It is difficult to destroy an image once it is created on the internet and all employers want their image to be good. Having the policy will ensure that each employee knows what they should and should not post online.


Tax Professionals' Resource