Need for an organizational policy on online social networking

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The Office recently issued a fact sheet on the use of online social networks in the workplace, and their impact on the privacy of employees and individuals.

We have tried to recognize the personal and professional value of belonging to one or more online social networks – but still warn of the possible impact these networks may have on an individual and the organization they work for.

This focus on workplace privacy is usually missing from discussions of social networking, but is becoming increasingly necessary as organizations and employees stumble their way through this new terrain.

Our fact sheet takes steps to discuss how employees and organizations should take a considered approach to their use of social networks – as an organization seeking to capitalize on a new form or communication, and as an employer sensitive to the privacy rights of its employees.

It is especially important that organizations have a consistent approach to how they monitor social networks, and how they integrate the information they might uncover into their everyday business processes.

Several private and public sector organizations have developed simple and clear guidelines for their employees on preferred behaviour when using an online social network. (For example: Sun, IBM, the New Zealand public service, and the U.K. public service)

The fact sheet suggests organizations take this process to its next logical step, by clarifying how they interact with online social networks in the workplace.

In particular, we suggest that organizations establish a policy explaining how they might collect information about existing or prospective employees participating in online social networks.

“Specifically, the policy should address:

– whether the organization permits the use of personal or employer-hosted SNS in the workplace;

– if SNS are permissible, in what context and for what purposes may they be used?

– whether the employer monitors SNS sites;

– what legislation applies to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information in the workplace;

– what other rules may apply to the use of SNS in the workplace (collective agreements; other relevant legislation);

– the consequences of non-compliance with the policy and,

– any other existing policies about the proper use of electronic networks with respect to employee privacy and handling confidential information.”

The process of writing and approving this policy will encourage an organization – at all levels – to give serious thought to how it monitors the activities of its employees and collects information about them.

It will also help employees assess the personal and professional consequences of their activities online, and anticipate the organization’s possible reaction.

In the end, principles of fair information management will be applied to both employees and employer.

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