Kabrina Chang Calls Out Randi Zuckerberg on WBUR

in Faculty, Faculty in the News, News
December 5th, 2013

The CEO need not worry about what she posts online—but you do

Businesswoman Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, is advising professionals to stop pretending that they can separate their personal life from their work life and simply share it all on social networks. Easy for you to say, Boston University School of Management assistant professor of business law and ethics Kabrina Chang tells the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media. Could Ms. Zuckerberg potentially lose customers or respect because of something she posted online? Of course. But could she get fired for it? No way. That’s the difference between Ms. Zuckerberg and the general workforce, and that’s where Chang steps in to ask: Should we take Ms. Zuckerberg’s advice? Advice that’s given from a “lofty perch”?

The fact is that the vast majority of the workforce could get fired for what they post online. My research shows that not only are employers looking at what we do online, but they are also using that information in job decisions.

Is that fair? Maybe. Maybe Not. But it’s the workplace reality in this Internet and smartphone age. Is it legal? Usually. Courts in general treat online activities as if they were taking place in person. So that photo of you holding your gun and a beer, or crossing the marathon finish line, or of your darling’s First Communion or Bat Mitzvah are fair game. While there are federal and state discrimination and disability laws prohibiting using certain protected categories in any employment decision, once someone sees a picture it’s hard to disentangle that image from other qualifying factors.

There are some laws that can help employees. For example, the Stored Communications Act bars unauthorized access to stored electronic communications. This might be useful if someone surreptitiously uses your password to look at your Facebook page, but it won’t help when your Facebook friend at work shares your photo with the boss.

Progress has been made to address the growing trend of employers asking job applicants and employees for their Facebook passwords. Thirteen states have passed laws prohibiting employers from asking for this information. This signals to me a public need for protection and the fact that at least some employees are unwilling to share all of the details of their personal lives with their bosses.

Read the full piece here.