This post is by Jessica Miller-Merrell, a leadership blogger at Blogging4Jobs. She is a digital strategist with a passion for recruitment, human resources, training and social media and is the author of “Tweet This! Twitter for Business,” a how-to business guide for Twitter.

Social media has arrived and has seeped into every facet of our lives — including our work. A week doesn’t go by where the news isn’t filled with an employee, celebrity or professional athlete losing endorsements or their job as a result of their activities on social media. Americans are spending nearly 16 hours a month on Facebook, with 50% of users logging into the world’s most popular social network every single day. Your corporate HR team, senior leaders and employment law attorneys are struggling to find a balance between employees work and personal lives when it comes to monitoring their employee’s online activities, Facebook included.

Social media at work presents a particular predicament, as employment law remains murky while adoption by corporate decision-makers also lags. A recent global study by DLA Piper Shift provided solid insights into social media in the workplace. The study, released in October 2011, found that 30% of companies admitted to disciplining their employees on their social media activities.

This phenomenon shouldn’t come as a surprise. A growing percentage of companies are integrating social media into their marketing and customer engagement strategies — and most recently their candidate recruitment and employee engagement efforts. For employees, who are concerned about being fired for Facebook, consider the following tips and suggestions to avoid disciplinary action altogether:

  • Lock down your profiles. Obviously, the safe choice is to avoiding friending anyone from work, including your co-workers or boss — but most people do it anyway. A survey of young professionals as part of a 2011 Cisco Technology report found 70% admitted to friending their boss or co-worker. Take advantage of the privacy features within Facebook and create lists, keeping unwanted visitors away from private photos, tagged posts and information. But keep in mind that even deleted or private messages can live on with a quick screenshot e-mailed to your supervisor.
  • Private messages are not private. When it comes to the workplace and the world of employment law, private messages on social networking sites are discoverable in court. This means that messages between friends and colleagues on social networks can be used as part of the legal investigation process. These messages are electronic conversations similar to e-mail and are being treated as such.
  • Don’t trust Facebook. Facebook has been known for their privacy issues in the past, and yet we, as individuals, place blind faith in a company who often holds the very key to our digital life. Avoid providing very personal information including your date of birth, religious information, or other protected topics that companies can use when making employment decision like hiring, promotions or salary increases in the United States. This information, known as protected classes (e.g. age, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, race/color, and nation origin), is not to be used by employers to make employment decisions, and yet this information is easily accessible via personal social media profiles like Facebook. Keep in mind that companies are increasingly using social media as a form of an online background check. Keep your protected information protected.
  • Read your social media policy. A growing number of companies are adding social media policies to their employee policy manuals, as they should. Take the time to read your organization’s policy and understand the guidelines they have put in place. Depending on your position within your organization, consider sitting down with your senior leaders, particularly your human resource teams, to discuss with them about how you are using Facebook to communicate both personally and professionally. Work to educate and open the eyes of those keepers of policy and procedure.

Facebook and other social networks are a cultural shift in the making. Remember that for many, social networking is a foreign and frivolous phenomenon with many legal and workplace risks. Keep yourself out of the headlines and avoid being fired for Facebook.

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13 Responses to “4 tips for avoiding getting fired for Facebook”

  1. @d2k says:

    I would also suggest using Secure Browsing mode at work.

  2. Anne says:

    If I get fired for being a progressive and an athiest so be it. But, I do keep my profile locked down to just friends and don't accept friend invites from anyone who is not, well, a friend.

  3. Genifer says:

    The section about "protected classes" information brings up a question I'd never thought of before. Even if your account is completely locked down, when you use an app from an organization, does that give them access to personal information?
    In other words, if I use an app made by a company I'm applying to work for, would they (legitimately or illegitimately) have access to my personal information & friends list, thereby bypassing my security settings?

    Also, is there a precedent for businesses requiring employees to give them access to Facebook accounts? I know of public schools that have tried this with students but I'm not sure about businesses.

    • Genifer,

      Companies can access your personal information through traditional legal channels if the attorney representing the employer can make a business case to have access to your social media private messages on Facebook and Twitter similar to email. They would have to demonstrate that you are using these tools for business similar to how you use your work email for business communication and it relates directly to the case in question.

      Protected class information should not be used in hiring decisions and in many employment situations it is very hard for the job seeker to prove. That is why protecting your profile and removing as much personal information from view from employers is so important.

      Thanks again for your comments.

      JMM
      My recent post Facebook and Love. Not necessarily in that order…

  4. @ilmkidunya says:

    October 2011, found that 30% of companies admitted to disciplining their employees on their social media activities.

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  8. Jenn says:

    Seems like one rather important thing was left off this list: rather than "make sure your company can't see what you do", how about "don't do dumb, fire-able things online".

  9. Andrea Lovings says:

    Be careful when you use FB… Nothing is private…

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