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Why spy?

An increasing number of employees are claiming that bosses use social networking sites to keep tabs on their activities after work hours.
By Sneha Mahale | Hindustan Times, Mumbai
UPDATED ON APR 09, 2012 03:26 PM IST

Last month, Facebook caused a furore in the online world when it hit out at employers asking for access to the accounts of their staff and potential hires. It went on to threaten legal action against companies violating its users’ privacy. The statement was applauded by almost every user who subscribed to the social networking website. Though Facebook later said that it would not opt for legal action immediately, most netizens were happy the giant took a stand on an issue that is becoming a common occurrence in every office — employers snooping on employees using social networking sites.

In India too, there have been cases of bosses ‘adding’ an employee as a friend on Facebook or ‘following’ him/her on Twitter only to keep tabs on their activities during or after work hours. Tweets, posts, pictures and status messages are monitored, and those found crossing the line often find themselves either cautioned or looking for another job.

“I fired a junior employee because of a picture she posted on Facebook. She told me that her mother was going in for surgery and she needed the day off. But the next morning, I saw posts from her friends on her Facebook wall stating how much fun they had at her party,” says Tanvi Shah, a manager at a media company. However, she says that it was only because she was added as a ‘friend’ did she realise that she was being lied to and advises people indulging in such practices to “mask their lies well.” “Even I don’t like to pry, but in such a case, I have no other option but to fire the person concerned,” says she.

But employees claim that it isn’t always their fault and bosses do tend to spy on them. They also talk about an increasing need to monitor what they post on Twitter or Facebook fearing a backlash at work. “A woman in my office used to keep posting status messages stating how she frustrated she was, doing the same thing everyday. She was called in by my boss and told to keep the company’s name out of her status messages as it tarnishes its image,” says Kunal Jain, a copywriter with a city-based advertising company.

Subsequently, a mail was also circulated to other employees stating that their accounts would be monitored.

In another case, an employee was asked to share his password with colleagues. When he refused and vented on Facebook, his boss brought it up in the next meeting. “I just told her that it was my personal view made from my personal phone that the company did not pay for,” says Vijaya Shah, a freelance photographer. And, Gaurrav who has the Twitter handle @iWannaQuitMyJob didn’t realise that his boss was following him. He was asked to meet HR for an intervention meeting, but says that “he didn’t get fired despite their sad sense of humour”.

So is spying on employees an accepted norm now and no longer considered an invasion of privacy? Social media analyst Moksh Juneja says, “My observation has been that a lot of the personal profiles carry a statement of “my views on this platform are personal and not of the company”. So they should be treated that way. But if the company is so stringent about social media, then they should have a strong social media usage policy within the company.”

Asma Ali, assistant manager at Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Ltd, says, “Normally, organisations do not take offence to harmless stuff posted online. But if the name of the company is mentioned, the employee can be warned. But in extreme cases, you can be fired too.”

(Some names have been changed to protect privacy)

Keep in mind

Do accept employees’ or employers’ friend requests, but don't send them.

Do ensure your posts are sensitive to your co-workers, boss and company.

Don't post content that will cost you employee respect.

Only share ideas and articles that will interest co-workers and employees.

Use Facebook as a tool to strengthen relationships.

Can someone be fired for a post on Facebook?

If you need to vent after a bad day at work, social networking sites are definitely not the place to rant. Several organisations have a clause in their appointment letters that state you cannot defame the company in any way.

Usually memos and intervention meetings are used to resolve the matter, but if multiple offences are recorded, the person can be fired.

Companies can also easily introduce a clause allowing them to monitor their employee’s social networking activities and online discretion is best followed. So do read the fine print before venting online.

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