Recently, I received a social networking “friend” request from an employee. Without giving it much thought, I ignored it and made a point to discuss it with our practice administrator. At the same time, I wanted to acquaint myself with our policy on electronic communication between the doctors and staff.
Turns out, we really didn’t have one.
In the meantime, I discovered that several employees had “friended” some of the doctors. I didn’t think that was such a good idea, particularly in this day and age of frivolous lawsuits against employers for such things as sexual harassment (not to say that this never occurs somewhere in this country). But I wanted to be sure before I brought it up. So, I consulted with an employment law attorney that we knew.
She validated my misgivings about having a permanent electronic record of non-business related communication between employers and employees. There were cases where owners of businesses inadvertently got themselves in hot water by fraternizing with employees online. In our case, the doctors involved really didn’t think there was anything wrong with sharing vacation pictures with interested employees. And they lamented the day when one could have employees over to the house for social gatherings and nobody would be suspicious about any ulterior motives.
Alas, nowadays perception rules and what was once considered being friendly to the staff can now lead to complaints of uncomfortable and unwanted “advances” from the doctors towards their subordinates. I have learned much about management from our administrator (who actually has management experience unlike the rest of us) and one key piece of advice is to maintain a healthy buffer between yourself and your employees.
Certainly there is a time and place for being interested and involved in the lives of a staff member (such as when we put on a yard sale to raise funds for the sick spouse of an employee). But a little professional distance is prudent.
In the end, we added language to our employee manual regarding emailing and social networking policies for the staff. And the doctors in question “unfriended” the employees with no hard feelings.
If you have any specific questions related to this topic, please post them in the comments below.
If you would like more information on this topic, check out “MySpace in the Workplace” in our WebStore, part of our Expert Teleseminar Series CDs. In it you’ll hear from Robyn Hankins, an attorney who specializes in employment and labor law, on different ways that physicians get themselves in trouble by inadvertently ‘crossing the line’ when it comes to communicating with employees, whether by email or social media. In addition to a one-hour CD, you’ll get a bound transcript of the entire interview.