Companies can employ services that offer archived data from social media sites to assist in hiring decisions or to track what workers might be saying about an employer. But according to Diane Swanson, professor of management and chair of a business ethics education initiative at Kansas State University, the line between protecting a company’s best interests and invading an employee’s privacy isn’t always clear.
"I understand the need of a business to protect its reputation," said Swanson. "But in terms of employees' rights, the practice coexists uneasily with the expectation of personal privacy."
Companies that monitor their work force’s social media habits could create considerable changes in employee communication, Swanson said. Potentially, the practice could create a climate of fear and distrust, which might be detrimental to morale or hurt productivity.
Swanson recommends that companies craft policies and provide expectations of employees’ online conduct. This shifts the emphasis from monitoring to creating shared understanding between employers and employees.
Furthermore, the company should disclose its monitoring practices and the consequences workers would face if they violated the policy, Swanson said. Otherwise, online surveillance could be considered unfair to employees. This approach also is necessary because of the lack of laws regarding companies that provide monitoring solutions.
"If a business is worried about this, the best way to handle it proactively is for the expectations to be laid down when employees are hired," Swanson said. "This should be followed by training sessions and discussions related to performance evaluations. That way, management can strive to head off problems and be part of the solution instead of being viewed as heavy-handed."