Saturday, August 29, 2015

Family Tech: Friending your boss, just one pitfall of social media

The Facebook post was simple. It was a photo of a child on a beach, with the heading “Playing hooky,” posted by Prince William Today and Editor Kari Pugh.

The first comment was from her publisher Bruce Potter, “Caught you!”

Further down in the thread, I commented, “And that is why you do not friend your boss, ever.”

The exchange above was in jest and they both knew it. Kari is almost always working online and knows her boss knows that and would see the post. Some downtime is always OK.

Social media is a reality of life. For many, it is how we relate to friends and family when geography and work schedules conspire to keep us apart. It is hard to avoid being on social media; peer pressure is intense if you are not.

I’ve mentioned before that I have friends in Australia I’d have lost contact with years ago had it not been for social media. There are many friends from my Pennsylvania, Missouri and California days that I’d have lost touch with too. Social sites are a blessing.

But that can also be a curse.

People do “friend” their employer, maybe from genuine feelings of friendship or maybe for work reasons. Some do it because they feel awkward refusing or they do it in the first honeymoon weeks of a job and then forget the boss is watching.

Then there are those who complain about their jobs or a co-worker every once in a while? When you do it among close friends at a party, there’s no harm done and no real proof you did it.

But, do it with the same friends online and there is proof. Screenshots can be your downfall.

If your boss is a friend, the boss can see it and take offense.

And even if the boss is not a friend, perhaps there is a co-worker competing for a promotion or attention with you who is a friend of the boss and can share the information.

You need to understand all the ins and outs of those who see a post.

It is tricky with Facebook. What you think is private to just you and your friends may also be seen by friends of friends.

And you can purposely make Facebook posts public. I make public Facebook posts mentioning columns or my posts at my blog.

It is too easy to forget to change the setting back to Friends afterwards so sometimes a private post is out there for everyone to see.

Teachers have been fired for making inappropriate comments about students. Waitresses have lost jobs for complaining about poor tippers. Nurses have been fired for photos of hijinks in the slow hours in the middle of the night.

It’s not just words that get you in trouble.

Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine are social media sites that exchange photographs or short videos. Sure, forklift ballets are fun, but I’ll bet the CEO won’t be amused if a board member asks about them.

Instagram is not the place to share unhealthy practices in the restaurant where you work or the insensitive things patrons write on the tip line of a receipt.

We do have freedom of speech, but proving an employer exceeded the National Labor Relations Act standards when they take action that is risky, expensive and time consuming.

The act states it “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.

It goes on to say, “An employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.”

It is probably better to be prudent then to hope for labor laws protection. Besides, even when you prevail with the federal labor laws, you still have the reputation with your employer, co-workers and the public. Better to limit your complaining to your spouse or friends in person.

Assume too that whatever site you interact with might be hacked. The hacker might be determined to see your derogatory comments about your employer reach your boss. Or, maybe they will try to blackmail you and demand payment to keep your comments private.

I worry too that some future social media site will come along and everyone will flee as users once did from MySpace to Facebook. As an old site goes into bankruptcy, the data becomes an asset to be sold.

Some data company can buy it and change the privacy policy simply by posting a new one; something they are permitted to do. It can then sell your private data to potential new employers.

The data will only be valid for a few years, but it will give employers an insight into the interests, attitudes and concerns the employee had in the past few years.

It’s these fears that make me limit my posts to only anything I would say in public and be okay if my wife, son, mother, employer or anyone else would read them.

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