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Employers, Posts, and Privacy

When business professionals think of social media issues, they ordinarily focus on counseling recent college graduates to remove the posts of them in unflattering photos; engaging in illegal activities (underage drinking, drug-taking, or other things), poor representations of themselves (undressed or partially dressed poses or making profane gestures), wearing clothing or holding signs that contain insensitive messages.  The other common concern is to remind employees that certain information they may encounter on the job are considered confidential and proprietary; and therefore; are not to be shared in public forums like social media sites.

What is now a growing concern among those that track social media issues and business is the opposite side of the employer – employee relationship.  A recent incident that I became aware of brought this to light and raises some concerns.

Promoting a show the wrong way.

Promoting a show the wrong way.

Marketing Gone Too Far?

A colleague of mine works at one of the local casinos and shared the following story:

The casino offers a burlesque-like show with dancers, musicians, and acrobatic/athletic entertainment for adult audiences within one of the bar/clubs on site.  The show was not attracting the audiences that management believed it conceivably could and identified what they perceived to be a cost-effective inexpensive way to market the show.  They determined that ALL employees would be MANDATED to post on their personal social media sites favorable comments or reviews about the show.  Further, management promised to check and confirm compliance that employees were participating.  Lastly, management also threatened that there would be consequences for those that chose NOT to participate.

My colleague wondered about the legalities and ethics of doing this and inquired if that was a common practice among businesses.

The Answer

In about as strongly worded way as is possible – NO!

It is not a common practice, and for good reason. Pick any of the below to understand why:

  1. Employers cannot compel employees to post comments on their private social media accounts (business communication vehicles are not treated the same.  Employers can govern the message on their professional sites.).
  2. Employers cannot force employees to provide their personal passwords to them.  It is illegal to make it a condition of employment that personal passwords be shared.
  3. It is illegal to provide consequences for non-compliance in regard to social media posts that were compelled by management to appear on an individual’s social media site.
  4. As a business ethics issue, it is duplicitous to claim to have objective reviews or recommendations without identifying that the reviewer is an employee or is performing as directed by an employer.

Management’s Response

When my colleague questioned the practice and shared concerns about the demand being made, a manager claimed that:

  1. Senior management was aware and supported the initiative
  2. This is how it is done in the casino/entertainment business (we do it all the time in Vegas)
  3. We were not really going to check up, anyway.

In short, the practices around social media are still evolving and emerging.  However, at no time is advisable for management to force employees to post on their private social media sites, and certainly not threaten that there will be consequences for non-compliance.  On both a legal front and a business front, it is a poor practice.

David Zahn