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Not All ‘Likes’ and ‘Friends’ Are Equal
 

By Dana Wilkie  3/17/2014
 

If you’re an HR manager, hooking up with LinkedIn groups that represent minorities and disabled veterans may be a great way to broaden your recruitment pool. 

But “friending” subordinates? Not a hot idea.

No company can afford to ignore the power of social media in hiring, networking, branding, and staying abreast of employment trends and legal developments, an employment lawyer told attendees at the SHRM 2014 Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. But all organizations must be aware of the risks associated with everything from Facebook to Yammer.

During a session on the risks and benefits companies face when using social media, attorney Jonathan A. Segal, a partner at Duane Morris LLP, said social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can be helpful for HR managers who are looking to expand their candidate search. Segal cautioned, however, that such sites should “supplement, not supplant” more traditional recruiting methods.

“Go on LinkedIn and put in ‘engineers’ and ‘African-Americans,’ or put in ‘women’ and ‘leadership,’ or put in ‘diversity’ and ‘management,’ and you’ll find hundreds of … affinity groups,” said Segal, a SHRM member, who noted that such connections can be beneficial to companies when posting vacancies.

On the other hand, he said, leaning primarily on those sites when weeding out applicants can land a company in hot water, especially if candidates conclude they weren’t offered interviews because their social media sites revealed they were older, disabled or a member of a minority group.

Segal suggested that investigating an applicant’s public social media sites at the end of the hiring process is not as legally risky as doing so before interviewing the candidate.

After a face-to-face interview, “you already know a lot of information about them—gender, race, disability status,” he said, adding that knowing these details before the interview, and then rejecting the applicant, could be grounds for a discrimination suit.

Managers should be wary of “liking,” “friending” or “endorsing” subordinates on social media, Segal warned, as employees may interpret this as a reference for future employment. Or it can work against a company if an employee who loses a promotion to a colleague complains the colleague was chosen because the hiring manager “friended” her.

“If you don’t educate your managers on this, they will be providing [endorsements],” Segal said. “Some companies say you don’t; some discourage it; some say know the risks and if there’s a problem, you pay the price.”

Internal social networking sites, including Yammer, have their own rewards and risks. On the one hand, managers can use them to monitor employee satisfaction; on the other, workers can use them against the organization, say, by organizing a class-action discrimination lawsuit.

“If you have internal social media platforms, you need to create your own internal-use guidelines and privacy policies,” Segal said, adding that you may want to have managers monitor them regularly.

He also offered these tips:

  • Never ask for someone’s private social media password, “any more than you’d ask for the keys to their homes,” Segal said. Twelve states now have laws forbidding this request, and the Federal Stored Communications Act may prohibit it in remaining states.
  • Make sure all your social media sites include notices that your company complies with federal equal-employment-opportunity laws. 
  • Because social media changes quickly, a company’s policy should apply to “social media platforms now or to be developed.” 
  • When retaining documents after hiring someone, make sure to keep any social media ads. 
  • Employees who endorse, promote or advertise the company, its services or its products on social media should disclose their affiliation with the organization. 
  • Workers who discuss industry or company matters on personal social media should state that their views don’t represent those of their employer. 
  • Never recommend or require that employees “like” or promote your company or products off-duty on personal social media. Make this activity part of work time. 
  • Make clear to employees that the company owns the content on its social media sites—no matter who posts on the sites. 
  • You can use social media to check who’s checking on you. “I guarantee you probably have a plaintiff’s lawyer following you,” Segal said. 
  • Following government agencies or regulators with jurisdiction over your industry can be educational.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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