Facebook at Work: What are the Legal Risks?

Last Updated Apr 22, 2008 10:00 PM EDT

The legal risks associated with using social networking sites, like Facebook, at work are becoming a growing concern for many employers. With Australia having the fifth-largest number of Facebook users worldwide, the Web site is opening up a plethora of potential legal risks for companies who allow their employees to access the site at work. Benefits there may be, but these are a few of the possible risks employers are exposed to.

Productivity Loss One major concern for most employers is the substantial productivity loss Facebook is causing when used during working hours. A report conducted last year by Internet filtering company SurfControl estimated that the site may be costing Australian businesses $5 billion a year.

Security and Privacy Concerns Another growing concern is the potential for confidential company information to be disclosed or leaked online by employees. Although most employees primarily use the site to "keep in touch" with friends, there is the risk of employees discussing company business and corporate affairs online and leaking company trade secrets. There is also the fear that employees using the site at work may make company systems vulnerable to hackers to infiltrate company networks since many Facebook profile pages contain users' current employment details.

Risks searching Facebook to make recruitment decisions There have been reports that some companies use these sites to "validate" recruitment decisions when recruiting new employees. This can lead to discrimination claims being brought against them.

Inappropriate content and behaviour online Another serious legal concern is that vicarious liability may be attributed to employers for the bullying, harassing, discriminating or defamatory conduct engaged in by employees online, since this type of behaviour is essentially occurring at work, during working hours and using company property. Employees who upload inappropriate content at work could also be breaching email and Internet usage policies already in operation at the workplace.

IT issues Employees downloading/uploading video or photo content online while at work can also affect the overall performance of the computer network system at the office.

Some suggest it is only a matter of time before these types of cases are brought before the courts. If employers are concerned about being exposed to these risks, they should either block Facebook access altogether, monitor usage and moderate its content or at the very least implement policies regarding the usage of Facebook and other social networking sites at work to ensure employees are not putting their businesses at risk.

  • Robert Gerrish

    Robert Gerrish is a coach, author and professional speaker and the founder of Flying Solo (www.flyingsolo.com.au), the Australian online community for solo business owners.