The explosion of social media over the last ten years has caused a serious strain between employers and their employees. Criticisms about the boss or the company that used to take place behind closed doors are now in public social media pages, for all of the world to see.

As a business owner or hiring manager, you must be careful about how you approach social media issues, including whether or not you screen social media profiles as part of an employee background check. As an employee, you must do all that you can to keep your online profiles and persona as professional as you can.


  • Be mindful of pictures: You must be mindful about the kind of pictures that you post to your social media pages and those pictures in which someone else tagged you. Remove anything that maybe considered overly sexual by some (e.g. those bikini photos you took at the beach or the shirtless pictures at last month’s barbecue…you never know who’s looking). Get rid of pictures that show you drunk or not in control of your faculties. Untag yourself from any photo where people are doing something illegal (better yet, just try to stay away from people like this?).
  • Avoid posting about your old company: During a background check, if your new company finds a lot of negative posts about a previous employer, they are going to have a hard time hiring you. Posts about previous companies make you seem like a troublemaker and a potential target for libel and slander suits.
  • Remove troublesome online friends: Do you have a friend who is always posting racist jokes on your public wall? Filter who can post on your wall. What about the friend who posts angry, drama-filled rants twice a day? Try not to contribute to the discussion and not to agree in public especially about sensitive issues. Those are the kinds of people who can scare off potential employers because they serve as negative character references.
  • Build yourself up: Though a lot of what you need to do with your social media profiles involves cleaning up bad things, you can use social media as a positive. Play up your involvement in the community and show your commitment with professional organizations. During an employee background check, your social media profile will reflect positively on you.


  • Create a social media policy: Above all, you must create a clear social media policy for your employees and enforce that policy evenly. The policy must be put on paper and given to every new employee to sign before he or she starts work. The language must be clear and concise, referring employees to a specific person in the company if they have questions.
  • Make an “off limits” list: Freedom of speech does have its limits, and as an employer, you can outline those limits for your employees on social media. You need to form a clear set of topics that are always off-limits to employees on social media, including things like financial information or proprietary data. These topics must be clearly defined for employees and can’t include a generic prohibition against speaking ill about the company or its employees.
  • Don’t ask for access: As tempting as it might be to require employees to give up their social media passwords, or force them to give you access to private pages, don’t push the issue. The courts and the National Labor Relations Boardhave stated time and again that doing so is a violation of an employee’s right to privacy.

Social media are not going anywhere. Like everything else, they are not there to be abused either. Employees and employers must, therefore, find a way to coexist online. Employees need to remember to keep their digital personas professional, and employers have to realize that they can’t control what their employees do away from the office.

Let social media work for you. Just remember to keep it well within boundaries.