October 24, 2012 in Business

Social media entangle ‘likes’ with life at work

Kelly Yamanouchi McClatchy-Tribune
 

Facebook and other social media sites can be handy tools for connecting with friends. Or they can sap time on the job and give the world a look at intimate details of personal life.

When it comes to the workplace, those factors – combined with a changing regulatory and legal landscape – have created a minefield for employees and employers.

And disputes over what’s acceptable often end up in court.

“Believe it or not, people post things that are mind-blowing,” said Shelley Collins, an administrative assistant in Atlanta. “People just need to use common sense. I just think your work life should be kept completely separate from your personal life on social media.”

But other hazards could also arise when managers and subordinates become Facebook friends or when companies do online research on a potential hire.

“There’s a real danger that they will learn more information than they wish they had,” like news of an illness, injury or pregnancy, according to Baker Donelson employment attorney David Gevertz. Finding out about such personal information online about employees or potential hires can create a problem, particularly if the person feels it led to discrimination.

What’s more, managers could learn that a valuable employee “is maybe engaging in some sort of behavior that you would frown on, and somebody is going to want you to do something with that information that you gathered,” he said. “It’s almost a Pandora’s box.”

Other issues could arise if people endorse their company’s products online without disclosing that they work for the company. That could raise the risk of running afoul of Federal Trade Commission laws governing truth in advertising.

Normally, employees giving an opinion on an issue on social media may not want to say where they work, said Littler Mendelson employment attorney Gavin Appleby. But if they’re supporting the company’s product, they should disclose that they work there, he said. “It’s a complete flip. It’s going to take a little training.”

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