Discretion: It’s Just Common Sense. Or Is It?


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My last Blog post was about the Maryland Department of Corrections story in which an officer re-applying for his job  was requested to surrender his Facebook log-in info as a precondition for employment.  The officer complied, albeit reluctantly. Shortly thereafter, the Maryland ACLU filed a formal complaint. This article is a recent update which offers an explanation of, and recent changes to, this policy. I’ll say again that I think any employer who requires such a thing has completely overstepped their legal and ethical bounds.

But what about simply wanting to connect with a prospective employee online? Are employers within their bounds to ask for that privilege?  Many companies now look at social profiles as part of their screening process,  and stories abound about employees who have lost their jobs over something said or done on social sites which employers felt reflected negatively on them. These include, but are not limited to: Criticizing a company and/or its employees by name or inference, and behaving in a manner considered detrimental to the company by way of comments or images posted.  A whole new avenue of litigation has opened, with more to come as social sites continue to draw more individual and business users.  At issue are questions such as whether employers should have the right to fire based on these circumstances, and determining the degree and manner in which people may express themselves without crossing the nefarious line into libelous or threatening behavior.

Obviously, I leave it to the judges, attorneys and juries of one’s peers to figure out these weighty issues for those cases that go to trial. What I do know is this:  A little common sense should prevail.  Even if you aren’t connected to prospective or current employers through social networks, chances are someone you know is somehow.  If you don’t have the good judgment and maturity to keep those risqué party pictures or negative sentiments about your company,  boss, neighbors, or others you know off of your Facebook page, you shouldn’t expect one ounce of sympathy when these things come back to bite you on the proverbial butt.  Like it or not, we  live in a more or less transparent online world; the exercise of discretion while there can make or break your personal and professional reputation.  Case in point: I know a realtor who posts frequently about how heavily and frequently they imbibe.  Think I’ll hire them to sell my house? No, and I’m no teetotaler myself,  but  I question their common sense, good judgment, and how a lack thereof may affect their ability to represent me in the best possible manner.   Harsh? I don’t think so.

So what do you think? Do companies go too far when they fire people for speaking negatively about them online? Are you connected to your co-workers and employers on social networks? Why or why not? Should I rethink my own personal views on common sense online behavior?


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