In the age of social media, it’s difficult to separate the personal from the professional.
According to Jon Hyman, partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Woodmere; Stella Skaljac, of counsel at Reminger & Co. in Cleveland; and Mike Stovsky, partner and chair of the innovation, information technology and intellectual property group at Benesch in Cleveland, blurred lines can lead to problems at work.
“Social media has changed the way in which employers have to react and respond to managing their employees,” Hyman said. “Because of social media, we’ve essentially lifted the water cooler out of the workplace, digitized it and made it available to employees 24/7.”
Skaljac added, “Social media has taken over the world and its the way a majority of folks communicate now. For a little while there, policies in handbooks prohibited the use of social media. Now, that is completely unrealistic, especially while engaging on social media to work.”
As for Stovsky, he explained how social media can also impede a candidate’s ability to be hired.
“Social media is changing the way we hire and research candidates, and that has implications all over the map,” he said. “It’s also changing the way candidates are researching employers. You want to make sure where you have things you don’t want other people to see. We’re going to be looking at other places where you might post like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. What does that say about you? Are these things that can be deemed inappropriate?”
Whether one is a current employee or looking to be hired, the lawyers said employees need to be aware of their online presence. “What you get in the end is a blanket identity of both professional and personal. All you post has the ability to affect you professionally.”
Skaljac said, “You have to be mindful in how you are presenting yourself to the world. You can post your views if you like, but be aware that if an employer or potential employer looks you up, you could limit your possibilities. People think they have free speech rights, but people need to be aware that what you post matters.”
Stovsky said the level of information privacy isn’t the same anymore.
“You should assume that anything you post is going to be seen by your employer,” he explained. “Using good common sense, you shouldn’t post things that put you in a bad light. But in the same sense, you want people to have a sense of who you are.”
Employers should also be aware of how their employee’s posts can affect the public’s opinion of the business.
“There was a story that went viral three years ago of an intern in Texas who was on an off day with a friend and they walked past a cotton field and snapped a picture with her friend and captioned it ‘channeling our inner n-word,’ but they said the word,” Hyman said. “They were both Caucasian. People online found where she worked and started hammering the employer about the people they hire. The story went viral and though the tweet doesn’t exist anymore, we have that persona online.”
Skaljac added, “You are putting things out there that are painting the company in a poor light. Companies retain the right to take action against an employee if (their views) don’t align with their values. You can’t control everything your employees say, but you can mitigate the damage.”
But Stovsky said employees should be wary of overstepping.
“You never want to do anything as an employer that is going to violate the law,” he stated. “You don’t want to make decisions that would be in violation of the law because of social media. You have to watch out for that. It could mean you learn something about someone’s gender preference or their political leanings. If you can’t use it in the offline world, don’t let it impact your decision making.”