By BRITTANY SEEMUTH
It is very easy to find anyone online today. Just type a name in a search engine and all of that person’s social media profiles pop up, from Facebook to LinkedIn. Fortunately, new ruling from the National Labor Relations Board provides some protection for employees based on their social media content. However, students on the job hunt should be aware that anything they post online could affect future employment.
New NLRB ruling prohibits employers from disciplining or terminating employees based on things they might say on a social media platform.
“[Social media use] would be considered as protected and concerted activity,” said Teri Cox, director of human resources at Mount Mary College.
According to the National Labor Relations Board’s website, NLRB.org, “The National Labor Relations Act protects the rights of employees to act together to address conditions at work, with or without a union. This protection extends to certain work-related conversations conducted on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.”
The NLRB issued a report on January 25, 2012, that looked into seven cases of employer policies. The report concluded that “employer policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.”
In that same report, however, the board established that an employee’s comments on social media sites are not protected if they are “mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.”
Because the specifications to what is and is not protected are not clearly defined in the ruling, it is important to be careful about what is posted online.
Claire Hanan, assistant editor of Milwaukee Magazine, shared a recent example of an acquaintance who was involved in an extreme case of social media misconduct that resulted in termination.
“I have a friend who was fired from her job for a single tweet,” Hanan said. “I would say that’s definitely the worst case scenario.”
Hanan said there are common online searches that employers implement before hiring a candidate.
“I think it’s pretty common for employers to check out social media accounts before hiring just to get a sense of the candidate’s personality,” Hanan said. “I’ve found this is especially true for positions whose duties include social media.”
Jeff Hunt, president and general manager of Hunt Management, a Mequon-based real estate management company that specializes in community association management, reviews a candidate’s social media presence before making a job offer.
“We customarily and simply review any related information and postings on Facebook and Linkedin, paying special attention to any such information or postings that may reflect poorly on the candidate in a business sense,” Hunt said.
Hunt does not use a contract that limits the social media content of employees, however.
“[We] do make it clear to the candidate and new hire that they represent the company in their dealings with the public in any forum and we expect that representation to reflect only the utmost in professional, moral and legal conduct,” Hunt said.
Mount Mary Reacts
The Social Media Guidelines policy was revised and approved as of December 2012 at Mount Mary College. These guidelines were created as a precaution to avoid social media misconduct and apply to employees or anyone who uses any social media platform on behalf of the college. Cox pointed out, though, that the college itself does not have many issues with social media and employees.
Cox said employers seek candidates who use the social media site LinkedIn. The site offers employers a glimpse into the work history of candidates and references from other area professionals. However, Cox said Mount Mary does not conduct any other forms of social media searches before hiring.
“It is my personal philosophy that hiring decisions should be made on objective criteria like resume, interview, and past experience rather than subjective details which are found on social media,” Cox said. “We do also, always, conduct a background check on our candidates so items that should be found from past conviction records will be considered.”
Cox attends seminars that cover topics of social media misconduct. She said the most employment issues occur on Facebook, a site that ironically calls itself, ”A social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them.”
Despite the recent ruling of the National Labor Relations Board, some experts say the best way to avoid conflict with social media in the workplace is to keep it appropriate and keep your online profiles private. Hanan said the biggest mistake college-age students make online is posting personal tweets and statuses while having a public profile.
“If you want to post your personal business – fine, but understand that if your profile is public, a potential employer could see it and judge you based on its content,” Hanan said. “Keep it appropriate. A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t want your mother to read it, don’t post it.”