Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and LinkedIn are all part of the growing social media  trend. That trend has made its way into the workplace creating a new set of issues and problems for employers and human resource managers.  In response to the rise of social media issues in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) held an open meeting in Washington, D.C. on March 12, 2014.  The meeting was called to gather information about the growing use of social media in the workplace and its impact on the employment statutes the EEOC enforces such as Title VII, ADA and the ADEA.

At the meeting, members of the EEOC, SHRM representatives, HR executives and attorneys that traditionally represent employers and employees were invited to participate and offer their views on the use of social media in the workplace and the issues they have presented.

One such issue is the use of social media in the hiring process. It was noted at the meeting that a 2013 SHRM survey showed that 77% of companies surveyed used social media to help attract and recruit candidates. It was generally agreed that social media can be a useful tool in recruiting candidates but potential problems arise when information gleaned from social media is misused. Information such as an individual’s race, gender, age, ethnicity and potential health/disability issues can be discerned from these sites and can lead to claims of discrimination. One panelist recommended that if you are going to use social media to perform any background check that you either have a third party or a designated person within the company who does not make the hiring decisions do the check. Another recommendation is that companies not ask applicants or employees for their passwords to social media. Several states (not Virginia) have already passed legislation prohibiting employers from asking and others will likely follow.

Another employment area where social media is creating problems is harassment. Employees who post on social media harassing, demeaning or inflammatory information about another employee are likely violating the company harassment policy. An employer can potentially be on the hook for liability if it knew or should have known of the harassing behavior. Another complicating factor is the rise of social media sites such as Snapchat where the message automatically deletes after a short period of time. These auto deleting messages create a potential evidentiary nightmare for employers and their attorneys.

Technology is always changing the workplace but the last five years has seen a remarkable surge in technology that can impact human resources and the laws that govern the workplace. As always, the law lags behind technology but the EEOC’s meeting is a clear indication that they are trying to stay as current as possible.

With all these recent developments it is important that you have up to date social media and harassment policies. It is equally important that you have reviewed your hiring policies and procedures to make sure you are not falling into any of the pitfalls this new technology is creating.