Should Bosses Be Worried About Accepting Facebook “Friend” Requests?

by Fred Abramson on October 27, 2009 · 4 comments

Facebook, Inc.
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Social Media is quickly transforming how people are communicating with each other.  It should come as no surprise that employees are now looking to connect with their bosses on Facebook.

The New York Law Journal (under a pay wall) reports today that the innocuous friend request is really a Trojan horse which contains the hidden danger of litigation.  Should bosses accept Facebook “Friend” requests from an employee? I think they should, with certain caveats.

The article cites Michael Schmidt, Esq. of Cozan O’Conner, who argues

“a manager is bound to learn things about an employee that they don’t already know… when the manager learns of some personal attribute through the site, the worker now has the opportunity to argue that any later adverse employment decision was based on this personal information.”

Here are some other potential issues:

  • The employer views the profile of an employee and notices that the employee has different religious or political view. This may influence the employer or manager when it comes to time to make a promotion.
  • If an employee makes defamatory remarks against an employee or the company, the employer would then have the duty to investigate the incident.

Shanti Atkins, an attorney and President of ELT. Inc thinks that employers should simply ban employees from accepting “friend requests.”

I think that Ms. Atkins approach is naive and could be business suicide.  Chris Brogan, speaking in New York last week at the Trust Summit, argued that companies need to listen, collaborate and learn to survive.  Companies cannot collaborate with their employees without engaging with them in social media.  Moreover, if an employee or employee is doing something improper, such as writing something racist, wouldn’t it be wise to investigate it immediately rather than ignore it?

I agree that there is a risk for potential litigation as people are moving to communicating in written form that is public.  There is a paper trail that can be used against anyone for a number of reasons, including litigation.

What companies need to do is have a social media policy drafted that spells out the specifics of what everyone can do when they engage on social networking sites.  This new area of transparency creates legal issues. How your company deals with transparency may be the deciding factor of whether it can compete in this new world.

What do you think?

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