Of the many areas of employment and human rights law that change quickly, I have noticed over the last 6 months that disputes over social media in the workplace have started to hit the courts and tribunals at a much faster pace.  While a year or two ago there was virtually no case law for employers to turn to for guidance, this is no longer the case.

Four blog posts over the last two weeks provide good summaries of the recent issues, benefits and pitfalls of using social media in the workplace.

  1. The All About Information blog cites a recent BC Labour Relations Board decision in which two employees were dismissed because of comments posted on their Facebook page that were critical of their employer.  Facebook continues to be a source confusion by employees about what is private and what is public.  Facebook is on the internet, which is an inherently public sphere.  Posting negative comments about your employer in your status update or on your wall is no different than sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
  2. Also from the All About Information blog, there is a reference to an interesting article in the Ottawa Citizen that outlines how insurance companies are "Mining Information from Social Media Sites" to counter disability claims.
  3. In her Human Rights in the Workplace blog, Donna Seale pointed out a good online article about googling potential candidates.  It rightly points out that some quirky online details about a candidate may actually indicate a more interesting, diverse employee that can bring more to the table than a overly cautious or neutral candidate. 
  4. Finally, this morning on the First Reference blog, Stuart Rudner posted a good piece on the different ways employers can, should and/or should not use online content about candidates and employees.  As he notes, social media is "not going to go away" and there can be many benefits of engaging social media for employers throughout the employment relationship.  Whether it is to screen employees for hiring or to review a former employee’s LinkedIn profile to determine whether he or she is mitigating his or her losses, the internet is a wealth of information. 

I particularly appreciate Stuart’s observations that we old folks (i.e. those of us over 30) all engaged in some behaviour that is not particularly Facebook-friendly when we were younger.  The difference is that we enjoyed a world without instantly uploaded pics through a smartphone.  Hopefully common sense will come into play when deciding whether employers should act on online content involving candidates and employees.

While legal disputes are rarely good for anyone but the lawyers, the good news is that the growth in judicial decisions on social media will continue to provide greater guidance for employers who invariably struggle with how to integrate social media information into their workplace decision making.