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Should Your Company Be Able to Look at Your Social Media Before and During Your Employment?

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Should Your Company Be Able to Look at Your Social Media Before and During Your Employment?

We live in a digital age that social media has seemingly taken over. Our day-to-day lives now, in large part, revolve around posting status updates and checking our feeds to see what friends and family are up to.

But how exactly does translate to your professional life? What if my company reads my social media pages?

Generally speaking, companies do have every right to monitor the internet use of their employees.

This can consist of checking their emails, monitoring instant messaging activity and surveying their social media sites. This is especially true when the computer in use is company-owned and used during business hours.

It's important to note that federal laws strictly prohibit any employer from discriminating against a current or prospective employee based on gender, age, race, disabilities, immigration status or nation of origin. This is especially true if this information is learned from surveying a social networking site.

Employers can, however, use social networking sites to conduct background checks or discover an individual's character. This makes it very important that you remain conscious of what information they'll be able to see on the social sites you frequent.

But what if my company reads my social media? What rights do I have?

Here, we'll take a look at the details of what a company is allowed to do when it comes to social surveillance of employees and prospects.

1. Defining Social Networking

Think of a social site as a form of virtual communication through which the users form online communities to share ideas, messages, information and various content. It can include social blogs, forums, micro-blogging (such as Twitter), Wikis, social networks (Instagram and Facebook) and several others.

2. How Does It Relate to Work?

Within the US, nearly 70% of adults use some sort of social networking website or app. Many workers make the mistake of posting media or comments about past employment statuses, issues in the workplace or thoughts about who they work for. This has caused the termination of a lot of workers.

Beyond that, the majority of companies in the US state that they are concerned with workers spending time on social networking sites while they're at work. This concern creates a state of surveillance to help ensure that workers remain productive.

It's also become increasingly popular for companies to screen potential hires by digging into their social accounts. If you're currently applying for jobs, rest assured that your accounts are getting a close look.

3. Are Companies Allowed to Use My Social Networking Information Against Me in the Hiring Process?

Nearly every company wants to make sure a potential worker is highly qualified and reflects well on the company they work for. Because of this, nearly every company does conduct a thorough background check. This background check often includes perusing social networking sites.

Your social network profiles provide a wealth of information regarding your career objectives, credentials, employment status, abuse of alcohol or drugs, judgment and maturity levels and other vital information.

However, they cannot legally make a hiring decision based on your race, age, gender or disability status. Federal and state laws strictly prohibit this conduct.

4. What If a Company Requests My Passwords in Order to Access My Social Accounts?

You might be surprised to learn that there aren't any federal laws that strictly prohibit a company from requesting an applicant or worker's passwords and/or usernames. However, in the past several years, many states have put legislation in place to limit how companies request this information.

Laws tend to vary for each state. They also don't provide similar levels of protect from state to state. To get more information about the laws in your state, get in touch with a local employment law expert in your area.

5. How to React When a Company Requests Your Passwords

This is a situation that can be very nerve-wracking for a lot of people. However, it's also a situation that you should always be prepared for.

If you're asked to provide your passwords, there are a few things you can do:

• Tell them that you don't use social sites (although they may find them on their own)
• Use alias names on your personal social networking sites
• Make a fan page that you only use for business purposes
• Only put information online that will portray you in a professional way (keeping in mind that your friends and connections could blow this for you)
• Direct them to your professional LinkedIn profile, or other such professional accounts
• Tell the company representative that your social accounts are like a personal diary, only to be perused by individuals that you choose
• Bring up the pages for them and look at them together, without divulging your passwords

Depending on the company, some of these strategies will be more effective than others.

6. Is My Company Legally Allowed to Monitor Internet Activity?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes. And the truth is, the vast majority of companies do it. Here's a great post about  Posting "inappropriate" Things on Social Media

Today's businesses are highly concerned with bandwidth use, losses in productivity, proprietary information dissemination, viruses and liabilities related to harassment. For these reasons, companies strongly believe monitoring is a good way to deter usage abuses.

The ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) states that computer and network systems provided by a business is, in fact, fully the property of that business. As such, they're allowed to monitor basically everything that you use a computer for, including the internet use that they provide.

If your company has provided you with written policies regarding monitoring, you can expect that they are doing it. Generally speaking, the courts have agreed that workers do not have any expectation of personal privacy when they use company-owned devices.

Courts have even ruled that the company is not required to inform its workers of surveillance practices in order to take action when use is abused. Only the states of Delaware and Connecticut require businesses to inform workers that email communication is monitored.

In addition, the US Patriot Act requires businesses to report suspicious activity to local law enforcement agencies.

There are few, if any, laws that protect a worker's activity on company-owned networks and devices.

7. What Can a Business Monitor On My Workstation?

In today's environment, technology is available for businesses to monitor nearly every aspect of your use. And by law, they are able to do so.

Some areas they look closely at include:

• Software downloads
• Use of internet
• Files and other documents stored on a workstation
• Duration of idle time
• Anything that gets displayed on-screen
• Emails (both internal and external
• Keystrokes typed per hour

Basically, if you can do it on a company-owned device, they can monitor it. As an employee, it's important to check your company's handbook for specific policies they have regarding how they monitor your use.

Just remember that even though there may not be a policy in place, it doesn't mean that you're not being monitored.

An Employer Has the Freedom to Explore Your Social Media

Remember that almost everything you post on social networking sites can be used by businesses to determine what kind of employee you are or will be. The internet is written in ink, not pencil. Be cognizant of what you post and you won't need to worry about it getting used against you at a later time.