Human Resources News & Insights

Warning to bosses: Don’t ‘friend’ employees

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The practice of “friending” on social-networking sites can be a legally dangerous one when it involves a supervisor and a subordinate. Plus, a lot of subordinates think it’s creepy.

The seemingly innocent practice of  sending friend requests to staff via Facebook, Twitter and other sites can trigger a slew of legal claims, including harassment, discrimination or wrongful termination, as well as touch off complaints of favoritism if the boss friends only a select person or persons.

That’s the warning from attorney Michael Schmidt on law.com.

Here’s the source of the problem: Social-networking sites typically are packed with personal information. So, what happens if a friending boss learns TMI — too much info — about a subordinate? That opens the door for an employee complaint that the boss made work decisions, such as promotions, based on the personal information.

The example given by Schmidt:

  • Suppose an employee is a member of a gay-rights group.
  • Then suppose the friending boss fires the employee because of performance issues.
  • The employee then could argue that the boss used the personal information as a basis for the termination.

That’s just one example of many: religious affiliation, age,  political affiliation, health problems. All could serve as a basis for a lawsuit should the supervisor take an adverse action against the employee.

If that’s not enough, consider that in a survey by staffing firm Office Team, 47% of respondents said they don’t want to be friended by their bosses.

The message to supervisors: Don’t do it.

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  • Judy

    I agree. I am on Facebook, but I don’t have any subordinates of co-workers as friends.

  • CST

    I agree, but the employees don’t want the bosses as a friend more because they don’t want to get caught on a non work related site during work hours, not because it creepy.

  • Biff

    I guess the other 53% are working for me because they send friend requests to me all the time.

  • Mary D.

    I only joined Facebook this year and I must admit I was not too savvy about its workings. I accepted friend requests from coworkers and subordinates. Then one day, a coworker was telling an outside-the-company friend of hers about a new benefit that had not yet been announced. Since she too had many employees as friends, as well as me who knew about the benefit, half the company was alerted and the confusion started. Since then I have cleaned up my Facebook page to friends and family.

  • http://www.osgcorp.com Peg

    Our company has a Facebook limited access group account we use for business. Instead of linking personal accounts to this account, we have encouraged employees to create a Facebook account with limited personal information for accessing our group account. In this way, we keep the friends and business separated.

  • Robert

    What about LinkedIn? I was very uncomfortable when my boss asked to connect to me on LinkedIn. This would give her direct updates on any of my job searches, professional development, etc. It limited the freedom I had to use LinkedIn.

  • Shay

    I totally agree, that is too much like mixing business with pleasure. I do have a couple, literally, of coworkers that are my Facebook friends, but we are friends outside of the workplace. Since I work in the HR field I definitely do not want anyone to be friends with me on any social network scene because it is a fine line. Now, with that being said, I have gotten reports from managers saying that they are Facebook friends with some of their subordinates and it becomes an issue when your employee calls out and posts a status update that does not explain an illness, but that they just got back from the bar and was too drunk to go to work, or they just got back in town from a trip. Or my personal favorite was a manager who was on Facebook and her employee who was to be on bedrest posted an update that she just got back from the carnival with her kids. Manager saw it, got upset especially because this was not the first time that someone suspected that she wasn’t in need of strict bedrest because she had been spotted around town.

    My advice for both employees and managers.. just don’t add them! It is unnecessary confusion and can create very messy issue and inappropiate situations.

  • CJD

    I agree whole heartedly with Shay. Our supervisors have learned real fast that some areas are off limits. 1) friends on Facebook and, just as important, your cell phone number. As long as everything is going perfect everyone is ok. But, the first time you have to discipline or fire an employee all hell breaks loose. Having that issue right now with someone fired last week. All sorts of nasty text messages are being sent via cell phone; and when I say nasty, I mean the lowest behaviour you can imagine. We are working with law enforcement right now to put a stop to it — yes they are backing it because of the personal threats targeting specific individuals that are included in the messages. Follow the advice above and JUST DON’T ADD THEM!

  • Pat

    I agree! I’ve also just recently joined Facebook at the urgings of family members. Consequently, I’m keeping my Facebook strictly for family & friends outside of work. I definitely would not “friend” any co-worker, whether one of my peers or subordinates. The socialization I do have with some of my co-workers is, at best, very minimal. We may meet after work (usually Fridays) share some appetizers & chat about things outside of work. We keep it simple, do not divulge too much personal info & discuss, in general, current events, local news, etc.

    There are a lot of great comments from all regarding this issue. All the more reason not to cross that very fine line, between business & pleasure. Thanks to all!!

  • Shay

    While I understand your point of view AAS, I would have to somewhat disagree. While I would understand the concept of if you dont feel comfortable doing it in front of your employees or some family members, you should still be able to say whatever it is you want without wondering if someone is going to use it against you later on. Social networking was creating for the whole Freedom of Speech and to be able to share with others. People just have to be mindful of what it is that they are sharing so that it does not come back to bit them in the butt later. No one should be that comfortable sharing all of their intermost personal thoughts anyway. And yes, nothing being accessed on the web is considered private since I am sure that there is a way to access it, they do not have hackers for nothing. As a matter of fact, not long after, I posted my last comment, I got a call from a manager who said that she is on Facebook to monitor what her employees are doing. She said that one of her employees called out sick and then ended up at a Halloween party that night. I asked her how did she know, she said that she is her friend of Facebook. After a lengthy conversation about how we can not at this time proceed with any type of discipinary action, since she does not have any attendance problem (we also discussed the importance of documentation since that is why we can not do anything) she said that she is only on their to monitor the whereabouts of her employees. Invasion of privacy?? Nope, not really, if you post it, and she is your friend, oh well, you said it, can’t retrack it now. Is her manager nosy? In my opinion, absolutely.. reason being, we do not have in our policy that monitoring our employees Facebook pages is a helpful tool in the discipinary process. So, once again, this is a prime example why managers and employees should NOT mingle outside of work.

  • Tiffany

    I have two points – I am a supervisor who has friended subordinates and also have been friended by my supervisor on Facebook. The person receiving a friend request does have to accept the request in order for it to be finalized, but what does it say to your boss if you refuse their friend request?

    Instead, use the Facebook feature that allows you to group your friends and control what information each group can see. I have separate groups for friends, coworkers, and family. That way, I can stipulate which groups can see photos, status updates, personal information, etc.

    Those groups who I don’t provide full access to, see little more information than is shown on a private profile.

  • Linda

    I think this goes beyond the Facebook, sometimes depending on the circumstance’s there is a need to draw a line, there are others in an office setting that may feel out of touch with their Supervisor, and having some being more friendly than others places other good employees on the defensive and not only that the employees being befriended feel some connection with their Supervisor and some times can sabotage that relationship. I am all for team players and enjoying one’s work environment but there is a fine line.

  • Essie

    Mary: You should never have included confidential company informationon on your FaceBook page for your family (& employees!) to read. That’s what individual e-mails or phone calls are for.

  • Jilly

    I worked side by side with my staff for two years, as line staff with them. Then I got promoted to manager, am I not supposed to be friends with them now? I feel by cutting all ties as friends would cause me bigger problems in the long run with my staff. HOWEVER, they all know that we are friends outside of work, but when we are at work, it’s strictly business. Not only that, my staff send me friend requests, I don’t send it to them.

  • Mary D.

    Essie: If you are addressing my comment, please read it again. I was not the one who put the confidential information on Facebook. A coworker who attended the benefit meeting was the one that released the infomation on Facebook. I cleaned up my account for not only her lack of judgment, but for the reasons listed in this article. I am the only HR person at this company and for this reason and others, something could be made of the situation. Unless your company has a dedicated social network clean up your own account to non-work friends and family.

  • Angel

    I completely disagree with the advice. For example, the precautions of getting sued for performance issues can be mitigated by managing those issues through a number of mechanisms such as progressive discipline.

    The line differentiating your “home” and corporate persona is becoming blurred as a function of adoption of technologies but more so due to an increasingly accepted principle that one’s life is may just not determined by their employer. If anything, employers need to remember they hired an individual– that may or may not have posted a few pictures from the company party.

  • MW

    Angel, yes companies hire an individual and pay them to do a job. The individual is also a representative of their company anytime when they tell another person what they do and where they work. As an employer, I hope that my employees present themselves in a positive way. Negative behaviors displayed at a company party or anywhere pictured and posted will haunt the company’s reputation (as well as the individual) forever. The information is out there and can be downloaded forever. Any individual that is concerned with their own overall reputation should be concerned about being tagged or displayed anywhere . . . out there!

  • Connie

    How did all of you people in business do your jobs before Facebook and all the other social sites!?!

  • Sherry

    At this stage in the game, do you remove all colleagues and subordinates, if your network has already become quite large?

  • Jon

    Jilly,

    Nothing good ever comes from a close friend relationship with a subordinate co-worker.

    You may ask why? Why cut the ties when everything is going so well and you feel that you can be the boss and have your friends at the same time. Well that’s great until a problem develops and you are forced to make a decision. So what happens when a problem arises and co-worker friendships are involved?

    Well first off, you will probably lose any co-worker friendship you may have with the involved parties.

    Second you may do serious damage to your career, especially if your judgment is clouded by a personal relationship that affects your ability to make a decision or take action on the situation.

    So, in my opinion, yes you need to limit the level of your relationships in the work environment. You don’t need to be rude about it, but you do need to make it clear that you are the boss and you need to ensure you maintain a professional relationship with your subordinates. If you don’t it could come back to haunt you.

    Jon

  • Ashley

    I think it should be at your discretion if you want to be friends with someone you work with. There is such thing as limited access so people only see what you want them to see.

  • Pragmatic One

    What about authenticity and living one, integrated life? The generation today will expect to continue with its social networking once they begin work life. All of a sudden, are they expected to suddenly de-friend the hundreds or thousands of social networking friends they have made during school years?

    Could it be that fear is driving this position? Many people simply accept all friend requests, and manage their profiles to allow minimal viewing. This creates an on-line presence, and proactive management of a vehicle that could be driven by an imposter one day.

    There are many benefits to social networking. Fear of terrible things happening should no more govern positions with its use any more than the fear of terroism should drive our behavior regarding the use of airlines.

    We all simply must be aware of what we post, and what is posted about us. This simply requires being politically correct in both our personal and professional lives. The one integrated life approach.

  • Pingback: Should supervisors ‘friend’ their subordinates on Facebook? | HR Morning | Your daily dose of HR

  • http://HRMorning Harry

    Well I must be really out of touch with Facebook, Twitter, text, and other forms these types of communication. I do not text, I do not Twitter, I have a Facebook account but never use it and here is why!

    I live in a small community, have worked in HR for 20 years, come to company sponsored events available to our staff, our staff and production employees, or the general community.

    I strive to keep everyone the same. It does not matter if you are my CEO, my President, a member of our staff, production employees, or the person that cleans the bathroom. I attempt to treat everyone the same.

    I have friends outside of work, but I do not hang out with workplace people unless it is something that we do with everyone. I feel I am very consistent with each and everyone, and you know I use the same criteria for everyone.

    I do not like facebook, I do not send emails with my company email unless it is business. I use my home email and computer for my own personal information and my own personal use. I never mix the two.

    I can look at everyone each day, my life is predictable, and what every happened to just doing things fair and consistent. Why do people want to make their life so complicated? Keep it simple and straight forward. At the end of the day, you will have less worries and more friends. By the way all of my co-workers are my friends.

  • natalie

    I had to respond, I never do and just read wishing and wanting to, and I must admit,
    Harry has given the BEST response, Harry just to let you know you are not alone, we maybe few
    but not alone.
    thank you,

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