Author(s), Title and Publication:

Lam, H. (2016). Social media dilemmas in the employment context. Employee Relations, 38(3), 420 – 437.


Social media growth has blurred the boundary between work and private lives. In the employment setting, the presence of social media has raised ethical and legal issues due to employers’ use of social media for recruitment, cybervetting, employee monitoring, and employee discipline. Both employees and employers are in the process of negotiating the best practice of social media usage in and out of the workplace. This study systematically examined the social media issues that give rise to employment-related dilemmas for both employers and workers.

By referencing to prior research, statistical trends, and case laws in this topic, this study identified several ethical and legal dilemmas. From the employer perspective, using social media for employment decisions may risk crossing the lines of discrimination, infringement on personal privacy, and/or interference with employees’ concerted activities protected by U.S. law. However, employers not using social media may face negligent hiring and damages for improper employee messages posted. For employees, while social media provides a connection tool, messages posted off-duty and thought to be “private” may still be used as evidence in support of disciplinary actions. Also, employees may face dilemma when their collegiality to coworkers conflicts with their loyalty to the employers. In addition, open access to workers’ social media may further shift the power and control in employment relations in employers’ favor.

Implications for Practitioners

This study suggested that, during recruitment and cybervetting, employers should (1) check only publicly available sites, (2) obtain potential employees’ consent for online background check in certain social media, (3) separate data collection and employment decision roles to avoid discrimination, and (4) document social media use. For employee monitoring and discipline, employers should (1) be familiar with relevant laws and recent case developments and (2) establish clear social media policy and confidentiality policy to regulate employees’ social media activities related to the company. For employees, this study suggested that employees should (1) properly manage their social media access, (2) keep abreast of the employers’ social media-related policies and employees’ legal rights, and (3) voice their concerns about invasion of privacy and inequitable treatments through a collective institution such as a trade union.

Overall, companies should (1) devote sufficient resources to both managers and workers’ social media usage regulation and (2) periodically evaluate the social media channel effectiveness, in terms of cost, quality of hires, and fairness to employees.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Share this:

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
Follow on Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *