Workplace Rights

Weekly (12/12/11)

Topic of the Week  To Friend or Not to Friend

To Friend or Not to Friend:

  • Legally protected information.
  • TMI.
  • To friend or not to friend.
  • Un-friend your new boss.

To Friend, or Not to Friend: Legal Implications of Friending at Work
We've all heard about the power of social media, but did you know that 71% of companies are using Facebook and 59% Twitter, according to Search Engine Journal. Which reminds me of the famous scene in "The Graduate" where a family friend gives Dustin Hoffman advice for his career. "Plastics," is the one word key to a successful future. If the same advice were to be given today, social media would clearly replace plastics.

My favorite statistic, if Facebook were a country today it would be the world's third largest. Social media is connecting more businesses with customers and more of us with people from our past all for just hours and hours every day, evening and weekend. But it has a dark side too, especially when bosses "friend" employees, according to the legal newsletter Socially Aware. That's exactly what we don't need, to further complicate the often messy relationship between bosses and employees. I've got four warnings before you think about "friending" at work.

Legally protected information. There are privacy protections for employees concerning their politics, religion, sexual and health issues. When a boss and employee friend each other suddenly all of this information is available to the boss and the company. This can potentially give ammunition to an employee's claim of discrimination because the employer knew too much about them. Privacy may seem like a quaint notion today given how many of us spill our guts online, but here most of the liability actually rests on the corporate side.

TMI. Employees and bosses who are linked together on Facebook and Twitter can see whatever rants each other posts online. Many of us are guilty of sending posts when drunk or otherwise impaired. Until your phone and computer have a breathalyzer attached, we all need to be careful before we text or post. Remember who may be watching and the impact this can have back at the office.

To friend or not to friend. Employees can continue to friend or not friend whoever they wish. But bosses, you have a much slipperier slope. Because if you friend some employees, but not others, you could find yourself the target of a discrimination suit from your non-friends if they're left behind in promotions and raises. Clearly it is best to friend everyone or no one at work. And after thinking this through, I'm leaning toward no one.

Un-friend your new boss. Everything is great when two employees friend each other. But what if one friend is suddenly promoted to be the boss of the other? It may look tacky to un-friend your new boss, but it may be the only way to prevent potential legal problems in the future. See how complicated this all can get?

Think that I'm exaggerating about the liability from Facebook? Two-thirds of divorce lawyers say that Facebook is the primary source of evidence in divorce proceedings today. Social media is great, but if we're not all careful it can quickly turn into a social disease.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

Thought of the Week

""Social Media is about sociology and psychology more than technology.""

–Brian Solis

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    • 18% of males senior executives do
    • 36% of executives wear navy blue, 26% black, 8% brown or gray


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