Our last two posts have focused on the benefits of how both people and companies can use social media to further their careers and improve their companies. Our third post in our series on social media focuses on whether or not companies should use social media to monitor their employees. In the workplace I have no issue with employers monitoring how I use social media or my online activities. While it’s reasonable and likely many employees use social media and the internet for research and for their daily work use of social media should have its limits.

Employees should also have enough common sense and know how to not visit sites that may make companies feel nervous or get themselves into trouble. Porn sites would be an automatic no as would gambling and file sharing and bit torrent sites.

The Workforce Management site has a great article on guidelines for how companies can treat and manage employees use of social media and online activities. The Workforce site notes that there are 10 commandments that employers can use in the development of a social media policy. While I won’t go into all of them here, there are a few important ones below.

Using your social media policy to set employee boundaries is a key point here “Every employer needs a simply worded social media policy to provide employees with practical guidelines to help prevent unthinking, harmful employee actions. Tell your employees, nicely but firmly, what you expect from them.” Even more important is that consent for monitoring is crucial, but “sell” it to employees. “The only actual question is how an employer can monitor with the least legal exposure so that employee privacy rights are not violated.”

The company you work for may or may not have something in place but it’s likely you’ve signed various employee waiver forms when you started. These will reinforce among employees that you shouldn’t perform certain actions that may violate company policy or may provide for protection against the release of confidential information to customers and competitors. Though companies and corporations can use these social media policies to help guide their employees and protect themselves, they still must follow the laws of the particular company they operate in.

In Canada, it is the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act or PIPEDA that determines how and when employees can be monitored. “The federal PIPEDA law limits the right of employers to collect, use and disclose personal information about their employees.” It applies in many parts of Canada, the privacy protections for employees apply only to employers who are federally regulated.” We are unique in BC though since we have our own personal privacy laws that apply to employees, one of three provinces that does so in Canada.

Our Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) monitors and enforces British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). These two acts allow for access to information held by public bodies (such as ministries, universities and hospitals) and determines how public bodies may collect, use and disclose personal information. PIPA sets out how private organizations (including businesses, charities, associations and labour organizations) may collect, use and disclose personal information.

In reviewing the PIPA website and searching for specific information related to employee usage monitoring, employee information can be collected for the purposes that are reasonable and need for establishing an employment relationship. In short, if an employer is hiring you for a job, then this is a reasonable use asking you to sign such a waiver or engage in the use of such legislation.

The use then of social media to monitor employees actions while at work seems reasonable as long as it’s done within the prescribed limits set out by the legislation above. Both employees and companies would do well to read and understand the legislation above before either entering into or creating an agreement for their company.

I wasn’t able to determine whether refusal by a potential employee to sign such a contract would result in denial of a position or if an employer has ever been taken to task by a former employee, it seems that with social media being a relatively new phenomena I couldn’t find any examples. I wonder too if studies have been done as to if the use of social media in the workplace has helped or hindered employee productivity. This may make for an interesting future articles. Stay tuned.

Featured image courtesy of Macleans

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