Thursday, December 9, 2010

Should A Line Be Drawn When Looking At An Employee's Online Life?

As has been mentioned here several times, we're a big fan of social media. When used properly, it is a valuable tool to keep in touch with agents and insureds alike. The ease of instant communication through Facebook and Twitter make them perfect for the dissemination of information, along with views of and opinions on the topics of the day.

The issue of privacy online is a constant theme in social media circles. When someone posts something on the Internet, unless it is encrypted or hidden behind passwords and such it is out there for anyone who runs across it to do with as they please. Youth is constantly reminded to be more circumspect on what they share, and with whom.

Where things become clearer is in usage of social media by employees of any given company. When you're on the company network, the company has the right to monitor online activity to ensure their employees are not involved in illegal or time-wasting practices when they're on the clock. Some privacy advocates have cried foul, but the general acceptance is an employer is fully within its to keep tabs on, and if need be prevent, certain online behaviors.

But what about potential employees?

A recent article in Insurance Journal examines how some companies specialize in the burgeoning field of online background checks. It searches for information posted in any one of several forums -- Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (yes, it still exists), blogs, comments on other people's blogs, message boards and so on -- to see if there is anything that indicates whether a given individual is someone worth hiring.

The problem is at what point does this cross over into an invasion of privacy. Does an employer, current or potential, have the right to use material posted online by a current or potential employee that is unrelated to the job as a consideration in regard to that job? The argument goes like this: if you and your friends quaffed a few last weekend, and someone grabbed their phone to snap some pictures and put them up somewhere, recording how things got a little crazy, unless you show up hung over, or don't show up at all, for your next scheduled day at the office is it anyone's concern but yours? The counter argument is that an employer has the right to know if an employee's off-duty habits are detrimental to their work performance, therefore it is acceptable to look around and see what people are up to on their free time.

What do you think? Is an employee's online life away from work something in which an employer should take interest? Or is it no one's concern but the individual? Leave a comment and let us know your opinion.

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