(Editor’s Note: Much of the content for this column came from the most recent edition of HR Magazine, the magazine for the Society of Human Resources Management.)
Since President Trump took office, the attention to social media has mushroomed. His pointed tweets are often the top news story each day. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are pervasive and even though Google and some others have their share of problems preventing leaks of private information, they aren’t going away. Hopefully, posting will begin carrying a more responsible, friendly and constructive tone.
While the president’s unfettered tweets may work to his advantage, it is rarely the case for employers, workers and job applicants. For example, comedian Roseanne Barr last spring inappropriately referenced Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s top aide, in a tweet and ABC promptly fired her. Even though Roseanne quickly deleted it and issued an apology, once she pushed the “send” button, the message couldn’t be retrieved and the damage was done.
In today’s “hyperconnected culture,” an online comment or photo can spread like wildfire. “The bombs people drop on social media can detonate right away or lurk like hidden land mines,” HR Magazine (HR) noted.
“As people conduct more business and socializing online, Facebook and Twitter have become the 21st Century water coolers, where workers flock to grouse, joke and vent. Before the internet, those conversations would normally go unnoticed,” John Polson, a California attorney, told the magazine. Employers, whether in the public, private or nonprofit sectors, can’t stop workers from conferring with one another on work-related issues, according to a 2010 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling.
The NLRB warned employers that their social media policies could not punish workers for discussing wages, working conditions and terms of employment, all of which are considered “protected concerted activities,” HR reported. However, it does not give employees free rein to air grievances over the internet. If people aren’t engaging in a conversation with co-workers, they can be fired for their online behavior.
Many bosses monitor the internet looking for references to their company, but employers need to “tread lightly when scrutinizing employee’s comments on their personal websites,” according to Society of Human Resources Management’s publication.
If an employee mentions a medical condition, pregnancy or disability that she has not disclosed to the HR director and then is terminated or laid off, she could claim that she was the subject of discriminatory treatment as a member of a protected class, Joey Kolasinsky, HR manager at Encore Electric, Inc., Denver, said.
Most employers today screen for online behavior of job applicants. Last year, 70 percent of hiring managers used online information to vet candidates, a Career-Builder survey found. By contrast in 2006, it was only 11 percent. If a post raises a red flag, 54 percent of hiring managers opted not to extend a job offer to an applicant.
Those deal-breakers included discriminatory comments about race, gender and religion; derogatory statements about former co-workers and their previous employers; and evidence that they supplied inaccurate information about their qualifications in their resumes or applications. Despite the drawbacks to being online, 57 percent of HR managers say they are less likely to interview candidates who are “invisible on social media.” Texting, internet shopping and electronic messaging are an important part of life today.
The bottom line is people need to be extra cautious about what they post online and employers need to be guarded about the policies they implement and how they monitor the internet. The same common sense rules, tone and courtesies that govern traditional letters, memos, faxes and telephone conversations apply to internet communications.
Think hard before posting an angry, irresponsible or accusatory message — in fact, just don’t do it! Most of all, be careful what you write because there are no “mulligans” like in golf.
Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, after over 25 years as its CEO. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.