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With each passing day, social networking becomes further ingrained in our personal and work lives. The benefits of social networking in the workplace can be significant as it brings together distant locations, serves as a cost efficient recruiting and marketing tool, and provides access to vast amounts of information and people. Unfortunately, the dangers of social networking can also be equally daunting. Information exists in “real time” and can never be erased, there is little privacy, it is very difficult to monitor and track, and it is an easy risk to the integrity of intellectual property and confidential information. The trick for restaurant owners is to balance these often competing interests.
Social networks pose a distinct challenge to the restaurant industry, which employs a particularly youthful demographic who have grown up with blogs, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook. This generation posts its life “on-line” for all to see—the good, the bad, and the ugly. This free spirited approach to posting often leads to problems in recruiting and employee relations as well as operational areas such as public relations and brand management. Employers who are not careful about how they approach and use social networks may learn too much information about applicants and employees. For example, knowing the political beliefs or sexual orientation of an applicant for a general manager position is certainly not relevant to the job, and could lead to allegations of discrimination should the applicant be unsuccessful.
For the naive manager who “friends” a subordinate employee and unintentionally discovers the off-duty sexual exploits and drinking habits of that employee, certain biases may be drawn about that employee that were never intended. These biases may also result in the employee being treated differently than his or her co-workers, creating a potential liability for the employer. In short, with Facebook and other social network sites, an employer may obtain information about employees that puts them at risk of violating anti-discrimination statutes and, where applicable, off-duty conduct laws.
The hospitality industry is incredibly competitive, and in a tough economy reputation is everything. One bad review or negative posting on a site such as Yelp or citysearch can sink a restaurant’s reputation, severely affecting sales. It takes little thought for a disgruntled or former employee to zip off a posting to a site that contains negative statements about an establishment, manager or employee.
Another risk, intentional or not, is that it does not take much effort for employees to download highly confidential information, copyrighted material, signature dishes or recipes. Within seconds, these actions can reach an audience of millions. It is also easy for an employer to access and read employee e-mails and personal postings. However, understanding when trademark and copyright laws have been broken, or recognizing the boundaries of the statutory laws affecting the electronic workplace can be a daunting task for any employer.
Because of these issues, it is essential for hospitality employers to maintain the following “best practices”:
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