The client on the phone was completely freaked out. She’d gotten a call, she said, from a concerned father whose son had been looking up product reviews online and ran across a really racy one, filled with sexual innuendo…which was weird because the product he was looking at wasn’t of that nature. The review was risqué and unusual enough that the child decided to check out the employee and a few clicks later, learned that he worked for my client’s company.
His dad, who wandered into the room, saw what he was doing and decided to call my client to give her a heads-up that her employee was creating smutty reviews on the internet which he thought might reflect badly on her company.
What should she do?
This is a really common problem for anyone who is online, commenting, sharing, liking, or tweeting. Celebrities have social medial and PR folks who deal with the potential fallout so their television networks or sponsors or agents don’t drop them like a hot potato. It also happens to plenty of us small business owners and non-profit executives. No matter how public it may seem, your employees have a right to tweet about a bar, post, review, and watch R rated movies, join online groups and all kinds of other activities as long as they’re doing it on their own time and not dragging your company into it.
On the other hand, there have been cases—like the one that reached the Supreme Court involving the City of San Diego and a cop who filmed himself stripping out of his uniform—that are declared “detrimental to the missions and functions of the employer.”
What if you’re in an industry that requires confidentiality? Most non-profits, for example, or organizations that deal with children or private information would fall in that category. An HR firm would, too. Thirty years ago, I was an educator. I was mentored by the experienced teachers in that you don’t want to live in the district where you teach. Why? They told me you didn’t want to run into parents and kids at the grocery store with your cart full of wine. You didn’t want to hit the local bar in a strip center where the kids were hanging out nearby, or even go to an R-rated movie. Yes, teachers can be fun!
Nowadays, the world is your neighborhood. And if you live online, so do the people you’d rather didn’t know all your secrets.
So what do you do if you have an employee who is the object of revenge porn or other horrible comments, or who leads of a book club that specializes in erotica, or posts Yelp reviews that seem pretty angry?
Okay, so here’s the deal. Everyone has a professional and personal life and a choice of what is public and what is private. The minute you join Facebook, you have chosen to make your life more public. The second you post a tweet, you have decided to make a private thought public.
In the past several years, this has been new territory for those of us who aren’t in careers and industries where public, professional, personal and private have traditionally been blurred lines. You can no longer have an expectation of privacy and anonymity even if you use a “handle” when posting a comment about the bad meal at a restaurant or complain about a flight attendant while on the plane (and yes, the commenter was escorted off pre-flight).
That is basically what I told the business owner when she asked me how to approach her employee and what to say to him.
Yes, you can talk to employees about this issue. They need to be aware of the risks of venting their less PC thoughts and behaviors on the interwebs and the possible consequences. Does it mean an ethic or morality contract? Potentially, depending on the industry. Does it mean banning employees from having a LinkedIn account or if they have one, that they cannot claim to work for your organization? Nope, everyone has a right to be online. It means thinking, considering, getting advice and deciding what are the boundaries that work for you and your business or non-profit.
If you could use help sorting out what’s private, what’s public, and what to do about your employees lives online or outside the workplace, call us.