By Terry McQuay, CIPP, CIPP/C

Social networking in the workplace

The ubiquitous presence and use of social networking sites (SNS) such as MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter continues to shape how information is shared online among individuals. While the advent of SNS was generally within the context of personal communications, the use of SNS within the workplace raises privacy concerns for both employees and employers. Many employers permit employees some (limited) access to SNS for personal reasons, while other organizations have adopted SNS for official use within the organization internally or for external communications.

In May 2009, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) issued a Fact Sheet “Privacy and Social Networking in the Workplace” to offer guidance on the use of SNS in the workplace.

The Fact Sheet notes that often, individuals, including employees who use SNS in the workplace, believe that personal SNS are private. The reality is that information posted on such sites can be accessed by many individuals for many purposes.

One of the OPC’s key recommendations is for organizations to create a policy on the use of SNS. The policy should specify:

  •     whether the use of SNS is permitted in the workplace;
  •     in what context and for what purposes SNS may be used;
  •     employer monitoring of SNS usage;
  •     whether SNS use is covered by any other rules;
  •     any other electronic network policies in place; and
  •     consequences for failure to comply.

The OPC suggests the policies include details on any company monitoring efforts, including off-duty monitoring, and reminds employers that certain monitoring could be considered a collection of personal information, therefore subject to privacy legislation in some jurisdictions.

The OPC acknowledges that employers and recruiters often use SNS during the hiring process and says that employers should keep in mind that information contained on SNS pages may be inaccurate, outdated, distorted, or out-of-context, and therefore should be considered judiciously.

SNS pose risks to organizations—from the inadvertent improper disclosure of confidential business information to deliberate sabotage by a disgruntled employee. Employees should remember that some personal and corporate information should be kept confidential, such as information about themselves, their co-workers, clients, and the organization. Failure to show a high level of discretion could result in the organization being held liable for such consequences as human rights complaints, copyright/trademark infringements, harassment charges, or other situations that could negatively impact the organization’s reputation and business interests.

Find the OPC Fact Sheet at www.privcom.gc.ca.

Terry McQuay, CIPP, CIPP/C, is the founder of Nymity, which offers
Web-based privacy support to help organizations control their privacy risks. Learn more at www.nymity.com.


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