Play it safe. Keep your social media accounts employer-friendly.

It’s no secret that 2020 has impacted our relationship with the internet, especially social media. In fact, recent polls show Americans’ overall “screen time” is up 69% from pre-COVID usage, and our use of social media has doubled. People use their social media platforms in both personal and professional settings. With nearly 70% of Americans working from home during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of the “workplace” has expanded significantly, blurring the boundaries between work and home, public and private. Quickly typing out that 280-character Tweet or sharing a simple Facebook status could cost you your current job, or even future job opportunities.

Can employers watch social media accounts during the hiring process?

According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers say they screen potential job candidates by using social media during the hiring process, and almost half (43%) regularly check their current employees’ social media accounts. The fact of the matter is employers DO look at social media profiles when making hiring decisions, and are within their legal rights to do so, so long as their screening does not violate federal or state anti-discrimination laws including race, gender, religion, national origin, age, gender identity, and disability, or regulations promulgated by the National Labor Relations Board.

Many employers use social media to get a sense of a job applicant beyond his or her resume principally because most people routinely post revealing information online. Ideally, an applicant’s social media profile and resume qualifications should match. Any discrepancy in this information can and often does lead potential employers to question the accuracy of a candidate’s resume as well as the credibility of the applicant. Other than matching qualifications, employers report searching social networking sites for other clues about the applicant including the professionalism of the candidate’s online persona and what others are saying about them online. Some employers even take to social media simply to find a reason NOT to hire a candidate.

What do employers find on online? Plenty.

That 2018 CareerBuilder survey also identified the top 10 online discoveries that turned that “welcome aboard” to “ thanks, but no thanks”:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos, or information: 40%
  • Information about drinking or using drugs: 36%
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc.: 31%
  • Linked to criminal behavior: 30%
  • Lied about qualifications: 27%
  • Poor communication skills: 27%
  • Bad-mouthed their previous company or fellow employee: 25%
  • Screen name was unprofessional: 22%
  • Shared confidential information from previous employers: 20%
  • Lied about an absence: 16%

Once you post something online, you have no expectation of privacy.

Employers can use it against you unless doing so would otherwise violate the law. “But what about the First Amendment?”, you say? Employees generally do not have First Amendment rights in the workplace. Only government employees have free speech protections and even those rights have limits.

Many employers don’t stop searching social media once the applicant becomes an employee. Generally, employee onboarding includes a mandate to review HR policies which, more often than not, include guidelines about social media use and online conduct. Employees should think twice before accepting or sending friend requests to coworkers or their employers. Once you connect with coworkers (or your employer) on social media, you’ve given them unrestricted access to your pictures, posts, and anything that you are tagged in, which can result in negative consequences in the workplace.

Common sense is key when it comes to posting on social media.

Applicants, employees, and employers must recognize that while social norms are shifting, not everyone is embracing the changes. Your opinions may not be the same as your co-workers, employees, customers, or clients. Before you post or re-share anything on social media, ask yourself who’s going to see this and what blow-back could this post cause? If you just can’t help yourself, consider altering your privacy settings to restrict who can see those questionable posts. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that the internet is forever and forgiveness isn’t always guaranteed. A well-earned reputation takes years to cultivate and only seconds to destroy.

Kathleen (Kathi) Lucchesi

Kathi Lucchesi regularly advises her clients in connection with all types of employment issues both in and out of the workplace. She works with employers in connection with the hiring, discipline and termination of employees, policy drafting and implementation, claims for wrongful discharge and discrimination, unemployment, FMLA and Wage & Hour violations, and EEOC, DOL, ESC, DOJ, and Title IX investigations.

Macy-Stutts

Macy Stutts

Macy Stutts joined Lincoln Derr in June of 2020 as a summer intern.  She is a highly professional and self-motivated third-year JD candidate at Campbell Law. Macy has a passion for civil litigation and the determination, drive, and tenacity to become an exceptional trial attorney. She will graduate from law school in the Spring of 2021.

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