Social media platforms include social networks, websites, blogs, podcasts, social book marking applications and Wikis. All these social media platforms present opportunities to people to exercise their right to speech and freely express their views in public or in a community. However, increasing use of social media by people has also raised certain ethical concerns. Many a time’s employees are being tracked by their employers to use the posted information for professional assessment of an employee and even candidates. Moreover, inappropriate use of social media by employees also raises ethical dilemmas as this could harm the reputation of a company.
Social media is made out of a vast pool of platforms presented in different formats that allow people to express themselves publically. It includes social networks like Facebook and Linkedin, Blogs such as wordpress and eblogger, microblogs such as Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, podcasts such as iTunes and YouTube, social bookmarking applications like delicious and wikis (Lachman, 2013).
There is an increasing use of social media platforms by people and these include employees who may get affected by this usage as their employers may be tracking their publically posted social media messages. This would also include potential employees or candidate of organizations who may also be targeted for this exploration.
It has been found that employers search through the Facebook profiles of potential candidates that are applying for any position in an organization to access their personal details based on which candidates may even get rejected. From Facebook profiles of candidates, organizations can get much detailed information about the person such as their ethnicity, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, political views, and age which makes them take a call on whether they would like to hire candidates with specific combinations of these. For instance, a person displaying drinking as hobby is highly likely to get rejection as compared to someone showing running as a hobby (Broughton, Higgins, Hicks, & Cox, 2009).
Common reasons that could be causing rejections by employers of candidates based on their social media profiles include posting of provocative photographs or information, content displaying their drug habits, bad-mouth about their previous employers, poor communication skills, discriminatory remarks, wrong information about qualification, display of confidential information about a previous employer and so on (Dowell, 2014).
Besides this information that is directly accessible to employers, third party services can also be taken by employer to get more information about the employee. Such an agency can get much detailed information about a person such as background checks, social media searches, and criminal background. However, in such a case, if the candidate gets rejected then communication should follow from company to employee talking about the reasons of rejection and a chance must be given to the candidate to correct their conduct.
In US itself, a survey has found that 83% of the recruiters go through the Facebook profiles of candidates before hiring them while 43% of them have actually rejected candidates due to the messages they post on Facebook. This access to the personal information of a candidate without permission is actually both unethical and illegal as per Fair Work Act and Privacy Act of Australia and if candidate come to know about such an event, a complaint can be filed against the organization for this breach. However, because of lack of awareness that their profiles have actually being scanned by employers, candidates actually do not make any complaints.
Often, even after recruitment, organizations scan through the personal or public messages that are shared by their employees on Facebook to check is they are being talking bad mouth about a company they are employed in. This assess to personal voice of the employees is actually a very unethical practice as per the ethical codes of conduct defined by Austrian Human Resource Institute.
While on one side ethical concerns are there considering employees, on the other side, inappropriate attitude of employees over online media can also be unethical if they attempt to spoil the reputation of the organization they are working for. In one case of Tenessee police department, when an employee wrote bad mouth about the department on the blog, the company fired him on account of the damage that blog caused on the department and affected the community.
Organizations can have ethical codes of conduct that can be communicated to employee to make them aware about what they can talk about the company online and what they cannot. Often employees end up friending their bosses or other people in their organization, exposing themselves to them such that whatever they talk about in public gets disclosed to these people violating their own private space. Either employees can be careful while talking about their companies on Facebook or they do not add people who are not close friends to not let go of their posted messages online to people who can affect their jobs.
Thus, two primary ethical issues that are important areas of studies today are ethicality of the usage of social media by employees and ethicality of the responses that organizations give against the use of social media by employees. Macrosocial norms like freedom of speech and microsocial norms like workplace behaviour of employees both put pressure on how a balance may be created between the ethical practices as used by employees and employers. At this point, it is important that there is a balance established between rights of the employees and the expectations of organizations about their behaviour over social media while they are working in the organization. Such a policy by an organization may cover specific guidance for employees for using social media platforms. Some standard of conduct and online behaviour may be included in the policy statements.
Valentine et al. (2010) has argued on the case of police employee who was fired because of blogging. As per him, if the blog is talking on a topic which is not related to work then firing employees on the basis of that cannot be considered as an ethical practice. If a work related topic is being addressed which can create a bad reputation for the organization then the employee may be considered as practicing unethical approaches. Moreover, when assessing the use of social media by an employee, the moral intensity of messages may also be considered which would require an understanding of the scale of the harm that is caused to the organization due to the message posted by an employee.
In case the moral intensity of the messages is low such as in the case when employee talks only about a bad day putting a disclaimer that a blog does not intend to harm the employers reputation but is only being used as a medium to vent out their frustration, the response from employer in the form of punitive measures could be considered as unethical. However, in the cases where employees deliberately put messages to harm the reputation of their employers in malicious ways, the act can be considered as having a high moral intensity and can affect the reputation directly and thus, an employer may response in a serious manner to such an act.
The understanding of how social media can be used by employers or should be used by employees is different for different generations and thus, their attitude towards the use of social media is also different. A survey conducted by IBE on the ethical concerns in organizations found that integrity risk was the biggest challenge when considering the use of social media and this was mainly due to irresponsible use of social media by employees. A harm can also happen indirectly when employee is not even intended to spoil the image of the employer. For instance, an employee who was responsible for managing the social media page of Nestle posted some offensive remarks when a fan posted a negative remark about the brand. This caused a rage in consumers who demanded a boycott for Nestle. Some employees put bad remarks about their own company in their personal blog posts that can also raise such concerns of integrity. A DLA piper study, which involved a survey on how employers take care of such integrity concerns, found that over 33% of the employers were taking efforts to discipline their employees on the appropriate use of social media. Some of the organizations develop their own internal communication systems for employees to discuss their personal issues to prevent their concerns from going out.
There have been cases of Serco group and Argos that saw the misconduct of their employees and then declared that they would be monitoring their employee activities on social media in their policy statements to prevent these employees from putting inappropriate remarks online that can spoil the image of the organization (IBE, 2011).
There is protection available for employees against the privacy invasion by employer into their social profiles if this affects their occupation. However, in some cases, this protection may be less and an employer can still fire an employee. For instance, any social media posts that were added during the work hours do not have much protection as the conduct was done on-duty in the premises of the employer. Also, in the case any company policy is violated, it can also lead to firing of an employee such as done in the case of Taco Bell that fired an employee who posted an image that was actually meant for internal contest on the social media which was against the policies of the franchisee.
There are certain state protection laws for preventing the off-duty conduct of employees that can harm a company’s reputation. For instance, In California, if any conduct of an employee causes disruption in the operations (Bergmayer, 2000) of the organization then it is considered as unlawful. Some reasons for firing the candidate are considered unlawful such as on the basis of political activities carried out outside company premises or after work hours and use of other products that do not belong to company after company hours such as guns, cigarettes or alcohol. Some types of posts that employees.
The companies are also protected by law against the inappropriate, unethical and illegal use of social media by their employees even for their off-duty conducts. As per National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), certain types of communication are “protected concerted activities” that are considered harmful for the reputation of the organization and thus attract strict disciplinary actions from companies. If a post by an employee directly or indirectly refers to the workplace conditions or a post is disloyal or malicious for the organization and violates their protection as per law then the law permits the organization to take strict actions against employee responsible for such a conduct (Rashid, 2010).
However, if an employee posts complaints about the policies used by organization even when using vulgarity in expressing views and the post intends to improve the policies, then such an employee cannot be attacked specially, if the post is appreciated by other employees of the organization reflecting their support for the views. Actions that are protected by law and cannot be responded by organizations with discharge of employees include talking about payment, working hours, business conduct, treatment of employees, and company culture (Laursen, 2008).
Social media Posts that do not have any protection for employees and thus, can put them into trouble if they use the approach include personal grudges, extreme level of obscenities, racism, and disclosure of trade secrets or confidential information of an organization. If an employee tries to use the social media platform for discrimination (Kizza, 2010) or bullying others including company or its other employees then it is also not protected by law and this can be treated by employers as an unlawful harassment to employer at workplace and thus, can result into complaints and strict actions by employers.
On one side, social media is considered as a risky proposition by some employers who are afraid that their employees may display an inappropriate behaviour that can harm their reputation over social media, progressive employers do not see social media platforms like Facebook as a medium that can risk a bad mouth from employees but they encourage their employees to get connected over the platform and connect with each other in the organization by forming groups or communities over the social media (Kizza, 2010).
Progressive employers are positive about the use of social media by their employees. A belief has been established that use of social media builds better relationships among employees thereby improving coordination in teams that in turn gets commercial success to an organization. Social media has the potential to make a brand grow more if employees are engaged over it and talk about the employer brand over the platform. Thus, instead of seeing social media as a threat, what organizations can do is understand the potential as well as possible threats of the social media, establish policies for clear identification of what employees can do and what they should not do over social media such that threats caused by inappropriate use of social media by employees can be prevented. It is important that these organizations create a balance between the policies that discipline employees for using ethical practices and empowerment of social media usage by employees to practice their freedom of speed and to connect with other employees over the internet (Turner, 2010).
In order to create a balance between how the employees of an organization use social media and how companies discipline them on the social media usage, appropriate social media policies or codes of conduct may be defined by the organization and the same may be applied in practice consistently. These policies should clearly define which conducts are considered ethical when used by employees and which practices are considered unlawful and affecting organization in negative ways. When applying the policies, employees have to be informed about what the company expects them to talk on social media and what the company wants them to refrain from talking to remain ethical. Progressive employers have this clarity of though in policies and thus, they allow the employees to make use of social media and at the same time create the ethical balance such that a win-win situation is created both for the organization and its employees. These employers also at times create internal communication systems to draw a line between what is being discussed by employees over the social media and over internal media such that the work related talks remain limited to internal systems (Azari, 2003).
This report was made to assess the case study on the use of Facebook by employees as well as employers and the ethical concerns that are raised due to that. The paper explored answers to three areas and these included identification of issues related to privacy of employees, attitude difference between workers of different age groups and use of social networking by progressive employers. It was found that major ethical issues that are raised due to usage of social media was the leak in the private information of employees and candidates which reaches employers who use the same to understand attitude of employees to make a selection of employee.
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