Editor's note: Welcome to Resource Actions, our occasional, back-and-forth column covering everything from the bizarre to the day-to-day that, despite everything, impacts HR departments. Please feel free to send all tips, thoughts and memes to [email protected] and [email protected].
Ryan Golden: Years after the popularization of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, social media platforms continue to bug employers and HR teams.
At times the platforms that grace our screens offer some benefits. They're convenient, for one. They can help us keep tabs on family and maintain friendships separated by distance. They allow this Baltimore Ravens fan to watch quarterback Lamar Jackson's 47-yard touchdown run on an endless loop for the rest of sweet eternity.
But in the workplace context, those same platforms can be absolutely disastrous given the wrong set of circumstances. And in 2019, social media offered us a stern reminder: What folks do and say on it can have consequences well beyond what they intended.
Kathryn Moody: If your immediate reaction is "obviously, I don't need to read a whole column to know that," humor us. Because there were some real wild examples that made this year stand out.
You might have seen the Elmo poop meme story by now but if not, a refresher: A worker in Michigan claimed he was fired over a meme that he posted on Facebook while off the clock. The meme reads: "Boss makes a dollar, I make a dime. That's why I poop, on company time."
The worker's boss didn't find it very funny and texted the employee, telling him he was fired. The worker posted the boss' response and sparked internet wildfire — the kind that strikes fear in the hearts of talent pros. Cue the Facebook and Google review bombing and tweets dragging the company's response (though it appears said Google reviews, at least, have been scrubbed as of this writing).
Jesus Christ lmao pic.twitter.com/49c1I8rLpj— don't look at me or talk to me or smell me (@ChrisCaesar) October 26, 2019
While the company was legally within its rights, as explained by FisherBroyles partner Eric Meyer, and we don't know the worker's background with the company, the reputation damage has already been done. And while bosses have likely had to contemplate firing employees over poorly timed jokes before the age of social media, it's only in our modern era where something like this (posted outside of work hours, no less) can blow up overnight. Everyone has a platform — employers and workers alike.
Ryan Golden: Sharing silly pictures is one thing, but newer features also carry risks. Social media platforms like Facebook give users extensive ways to broadcast themselves to anyone who cares to watch through the use of live video.
A live broadcast can effectively create a record to be used in unintended contexts — like a lawsuit — down the line. In June, a California federal court granted summary judgment to an employer that fired a worker after he took a Facebook live video of himself on a fishing trip while he was ostensibly on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. "I'm not out here," the worker said in the clip. The court determined the employer had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing the employee: misusing FMLA leave.
Kathryn Moody: But employees aren't just tempting fate online. Increasingly, social media has served as the avenue for activism for employees seeking change at their workplaces. The Google Walkout at the end of 2018 was publicized by employees through a Twitter hashtag; employees all over the world shared photos of their participation as well as their solidarity with the walkout's cause. And at Amazon, a group of the company's Chicago-area workers used a Facebook page to forward allegations that they hadn't been paid overtime during 2019's Prime Week event.
Social media can form echo chambers, but its at-times incendiary reach also prompts employers to respond. A campaign from the walkout regarding mandatory arbitration eventually led to Google ending the practice earlier this year.
Ryan Golden: Employers have increasingly become more social media savvy in response to events like these, even in the recruiting process. In fact,First Advantage found in a March survey of employers that 60% said they "always" screen potential hires' social media accounts for things like drugs, violence or bigotry.
It may seem prudent to consider social media guidelines for employees involved in hiring, but HR teams must ensure they're operating within legal boundaries.
Many employees are pre-emptively changing their approach, too. Survey results published in August by screening and background check company JDP found that 84% of employee respondents understood social media impacted employers' hiring decisions, and nearly half admitted to deleting posts or even whole profiles to protect their image. Forty percent said they'd opened alias accounts.
Kathryn Moody: So snooping is a little harder. But maybe that's for the best. Employers that try to gain Twitter or Instagram clout by shaming potential employees on social media for their swimsuit pics, for instance, may soon find themselves receiving the opposite kind of attention that they want.
We're in a shifting talent market, no doubt. Employers and applicants alike are finding out certain truths about each other on social media. Make sure it's a truth worth telling.