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Employee Privacy: Where Should Companies Draw the Line?

Sue Marquette Poremba
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Eight Tips for Creating a Social Media Policy

A list of points that you should consider while crafting your company's social media policy.

By now, you've probably heard or read about the woman who was fired for posting negative comments on her Facebook page about her boss-after work hours and supposedly using her own computer. The company claims they had the right to fire her because of a policy that stated that employees were forbidden from posting any business-related information on social media sites.

 

The story is not the only one involving employees punished or fired because of what they posted on their personal sites. And let's be honest: As more people use social media, the risks of personal opinion about the job will come up, especially among those who have spent all of their lives posting every thought online.

 

The real issue, as I see it, is where enterprise draws the line of employee privacy. At what point is the employee separate from the private citizen?

 


It's an issue without an easy answer, particularly if the company does have a policy about what can and cannot be written about the business or its staff. But at what point does the enterprise go too far?

 

On the Center for Investigative Reporting site, a blog post asks the question, "Is your boss spying off the clock?" The post points out a company designed to spy on the social media sites employees use, and how companies will mine sites specifically to find anything that projects a negative corporate image. Where things get really fuzzy is these companies don't just search for business information, but for any negative tidbits on employees (or potential employees). (I think it is important to note that the government also utilizes these snooping companies, to find potential threats to the national security, although some departments or individuals go too far.)

 

So, should businesses have the right to spy on employees or censor what they say outside of the company? And what is considered protected information? Revealing the secret recipe for Coke on a personal Twitter account should likely be off limits. But what about complaining about the 4 hours wasted in a staff meeting? If an employee can gripe about a boss over drinks in a neighborhood bar, why can't those same gripes be aired on a Facebook page that can (supposedly) only be read by the employee's friend network?


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