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Do you need a social media policy?


It is understandably frustrating for employers and human resources managers to try keep up with social media trends. It seems that as soon as employers (or anyone over the age of 25) has figured out the latest social media tool, the masses have moved on to the next one. Likewise it is almost impossible to amend or adapt a “social media” policy with each shift in trend.

At the onset of mass use of social media (for example, MySpace circa 2003), and a few highly-publicized cases of employees misusing social media to bad-mouth or embarrass their employers, employers and human resource professionals scrambled to try to control the negative effect social media may have on business. Over the years, with social media becoming not only an accepted part of day-to-day life but an expected part of day-to day life, and often the principal way people communicate, there is less focus on controlling the use of such media and more focus on exploiting the benefits of it.

Whether or not a social media policy is required will, as always, depend on the objectives of the employer. If an employer simply wishes to modify its employees’ behaviour with respect to social media, policies such as workplace harassment, confidentiality, and conduct and behaviour may be adequate to deal with any employees who waste time or choose to malign the employer or his or her colleagues using social media tools. If, however, an employer is actively using social media and encouraging or requiring employees to use it to promote the employer or the employer’s products and services as part of its marketing strategy, then a more detailed “social media” policy is recommended.

On the flip side, recent surveys of employers and recruiters show that upwards of 90 percent use social networking sites to find out more about job candidates. In some cases, employers are asking for candidates’ passwords to thoroughly research their online characters. Although that strategy seems like an overly cautious invasion of privacy, I expect that many employers may wish to, at minimum, Google a candidate to see what appears.

Employers should consider including in its recruitment and selection and personal information protection (privacy) policies whether it will engage in social media research of candidates, and what to what extent. Although information about a candidate obtained from social media, even though public information and potentially of some use in the candidate selection process, may still open the door to discriminatory practices or claims of discriminatory practices: an employer may be able to determine from social media, characteristics of its candidates such as age, race, family status, sex, sexual orientation and other grounds protected under human rights law.

If social media checks are to be used, employers should inform candidates that it will conduct such searches, that it will not do so until the candidate has been given a tentative offer of employment, and then only with the candidate’s consent. Employers must also be careful to not discriminate against candidates on the basis of any protected ground and to consider all information gathered through social media outlets with a grain of salt. Employers should ensure that any information gathered is confirmed by the candidate for its veracity. Although employers may not wish to have the “is that you in the naked picture?” conversation with a candidate, employers would be wise not to jump to conclusions about otherwise good job candidates from what appears online.

Having a carefully drafted social media policy, of course, is only one step in the process. An employer must also ensure that it adheres to the obligations it has under the policy and that it applies this and all of its other policies and procedures consistently to all employees, including its policies and procedures for privacy, recruiting and selection, conduct and behaviour, confidentiality etc.

A more detailed discussion and sample policy on social media is available in the Human Resources PolicyPro, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba & Saskatchewan, Ontario, Atlantic and Quebec Editions.

Michele Glassford
Editor of Human Resources PolicyPro
published by First Reference Inc.

Michele Glassford

President and Managing Editor at DRH and Lawyer at MacKinnon Law Associates
Michele Glassford, is a lawyer, researcher and policy analyst with a background in employment and labour law.In addition to a part-time law practice in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Michele has worked in the field of labour adjustment for the Health Sector Training and Adjustment Program and has been a Researcher for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michele also holds the position of President and Managing Editor at D.R. Hancocks & Associates Inc., author of the Human Resources PolicyPros. Read more

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