Should we expect online privacy at work?
4/19/2012 3:05:00 PM
The recent uproar over job candidates being asked for their Facebook passwords has rekindled an oft-visited debate over how much online privacy workers are entitled to expect from their employers. Should our social networking activity and other online pursuits be off limits to supervisors and co-workers, or does the importance of a corporation’s reputation trump all other considerations?
At first glance, it seems a no-brainer. Just because we get a paycheck from a company doesn’t mean it has the right to scrutinize what we do in our own private time. After all, we don’t allow our bosses to monitor how we spend our evenings and weekends, so why should they monitor the time we spend online?
Unfortunately, for many companies and their employees, it has become harder to distinguish between work time and private time, a dividing line that becomes even more blurred when extended to the Internet. When we are checking and responding to work-based e-mails at all times of the day and night, we are still representing the company. When we go online at 10 pm at night to post a web site update or to tweet about the company’s latest product, we are presumably doing it as an employee and not as a concerned citizen.
And for many people, the blurring of work and digital play doesn’t stop there. A growing number of employees have significant power and influence over their employer’s online reputation, either by being an acknowledged spokesperson for the company or by having the means to cause irreparable harm, either accidentally or with malicious intent. Everyone has heard stories of how disgruntled employees have aired their grievances by posting something damaging online. And unlike a verbal outburst or an angry phone call, digital outpourings can be far harder to control and contain.
Of course, the attempted privacy limitations have much to do with the explosion in online social networking. Facebook, Twitter and the rest are built around sharing but that can work both ways. While your company’s Twitter account may bring it lots of followers, it also opens it up to far greater public scrutiny that ever before. And while an employee’s boorish behavior at a local bar may have previously gone unnoticed or drawn a mild rebuke, it’s a whole different matter when that same behavior is caught on HD video and instantly uploaded to Facebook.
In the case of prospective employers, many people claim that the weak employment numbers have allowed hirers to be more intrusive during the interview process, and that an improvement in the economy will help level the playing field. But there is no denying that more potential employees are being viewed as future online spokespersons and a thorough background screening is inevitable.
Whether you believe checking on a person’s digital footprint is an egregious invasion of privacy or merely common sense, it once again underlines the importance of jealously guarding your online reputation. Previously, we have all had the luxury of maintaining a real life and a virtual life. Those lives are starting to merge into one.
Do you believe employers should be able to scrutinize their employees’ online activities? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!