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Social media causes HR headaches

Like it or not, modern social networking technology is invading today's workplace. As a result, human resources professionals are finding themselves with their fingers in the proverbial dams associated with the burgeoning options for perpetuating problems such as sexual harassment. Now, workers can create a hostile work environment that exists entirely in the virtual realm, thanks to the increasingly sophisticated and mobile nature of technological devices and platforms.

In this new working world, uncertainty is back, according to human resources experts.

Although this may seem like bad news, many professionals say that fundamental human behavior has not changed significantly with the upcoming technological advancement. In other words, it might be more difficult to track harassment and other problems, but the nature of the communication is ultimately the same through the ages.

Many employers seem to believe that mobile computing is here to stay and so are its associated issues. About three-fourths of employers permit own-device usage at work, while 81 percent of workers use at least one device as part of their everyday duties. The vast majority of businesses currently use social networking to promote their products and services, according to recently released research.

Employers should be concerned about major issues associated with the increase in mobile technology usage. First, an added potential for harassment exists among employees who are using Facebook and other social networking sites away from the job. Those could lead to increased litigation, especially if the company does not have a well-defined reporting procedure. First-hand monitoring has become significantly more difficult, so employers must rely on better reporting processes to catch the beginning stages of harassment before it blossoms into a more significant problem.

Employers cannot rely on their ability to restrict their workers' media usage, as demonstrated by recent case law established in several privacy cases. Rather, by encouraging workers to report problems early, modern firms can prevent the development of a negative workplace culture.

Source: Human Resources Executive, "Social media and the law," Tom Starner, Oct. 16, 2012

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