You’re back in the office after a lovely, relaxing weekend. You went on a spa break with your friends, with massages and prosecco. Even though you’re at your desk, you’re feeling quite chilled out – until your boss mentions they saw a picture you put on Instagram.
It’s a relatively innocuous comment and you try not to overthink it. After all, you get along well with your manager. However, you can’t help feeling unsettled that they’ve been looking at your social media.
Most modern workers know what they should and shouldn’t share on social media. While it’s fine to share what you’ve been up to out-of-hours – within reason, of course – certain things should be avoided, like bad-mouthing your boss or your company.
But is it legal for your employer to spy on your personal social media – and what should you do if they are watching your every move?
It’s pretty common for employers to keep tabs on what their staff are up to outside the office. A 2018 Gartner report revealed that of 239 large corporations, 50% were monitoring the content of employee emails and social media accounts, along with who they met with.
Employers may want to protect the interests of the company and its confidential information, or to maintain their reputation. They may also want to manage any misconduct arising from social media activity among staff.
However, spying on employees’ personal social media can be risky. The Human Rights Act 1998 plays an important role, as Article 8 is the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence and Article 10 protects people’s right to freedom of expression. And when monitoring employees’ social media, there is still a requirement to conform to data protection regulations.
It’s also important for employers to avoid breaching the implied trust and confidence of the employment relationship. Employers shouldn’t act without reasonable and proper cause, in a way that is likely to destroy or damage the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between themselves and their employees.
In other words, a manager may want to protect their reputation – but monitoring people’s private lives can have a seriously detrimental impact on employee morale. Employers should also avoid singling certain people out on social media, which can be discriminatory.
“An employer can't spy on you and use this against you,” says Marianna Erotokritou, social media and PR expert and founder of The Social Hub.
“However, an employer can protect the image of their company. As I am a business owner, I would want to make sure my staff are not defaming my company, clients or sharing anything confidential regarding work on social media. However, an employer should not go out of their way to 'spy' on someone in particular.”
Ultimately, social media use is a personal activity and should be treated this way by employers unless the employee is bringing the name of the company or individuals into disrepute.
What to do if your boss is spying on your social media?
The signs of an employer spying on you can either be obvious or quite sly. If they frequently comment on your personal life or activities, they may well be monitoring what you’re up to.
You can also check out your story views to see if you can spot your boss, or keep tabs of any erroneous "likes" from them on Facebook.
“If you find your boss asking you how your weekend was and hinting at that quirky little bar you went to, then you know your employer has seen something on your social media,” says Erotokritou.
It can also be difficult to tell the difference between your manager trying to be friendly and outright surveillance. But if it’s making you feel uncomfortable, ensure your Facebook, Instagram and other accounts are set to private – and be careful what you post on Twitter.
Additionally, make sure you only connect with people you don’t mind having direct access to your personal life too. It might be awkward to reject a friend request from a boss, but you’re under no obligation to accept it either.
“If you feel you're being targeted or stalked on social media, make sure your profile is private and you only accept people you are comfortable with seeing your social life,” advises Erotokritou.