Employers often speak of their staff members as “family.” It’s great when supervisors and workers can hang out together, bond over a softball game or grab a beer after work. But in the age of social media, it’s far too easy to know far too much about your employees’ personal lives. And getting too involved can lead to real problems.
You cannot, by law, discriminate against employees who belong to a protected class or category. Examples are gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religion or disability. You can’t even ask questions about these issues in interviews. Why? Because there is a possibility of discrimination if decisions are made based on these characteristics.
It’s important to create a workplace that is free from any inkling of discrimination. And the less you know about employees’ personal lives, the easier that becomes. For example, you might have an employee who shows up every day on time, works hard, achieves his goals and has a great attitude. But if you’re friends with him on Facebook, you may also find out that his political views are 180 degrees from your own—even if he’s never brought up politics at work. And that could affect how you treat him.
Here are some other personal things you don’t need to know about your employees:
- How they spend their free time. Some people run for fun. Others sit in bars. It’s not your concern one way or the other.
- What church they belong to—or don’t. If an employee speaks about his religious beliefs or tries to proselytize to other workers, have a talk and insist that the behavior stop.
- How they spend their money. If you know she buys expensive shoes or likes good wine, you might decide Sara doesn’t need that raise she has earned.
- Their sexual orientation. It’s none of your business. Period.
- Whether they have physical or mental illnesses. Some illness will carry over into the workplace. But knowing that an employee is in therapy, taking medication or dealing with a chronic disease can affect your objectivity in evaluating her performance. Remember though, that employees with disabilities who need work station adjustments are entitled to them.
In a time when everyone announces what they’re eating for breakfast on the Internet, it takes more effort to respect the employer/employee professional relationship. But this is also a litigious time, and knowing less about your employees could keep you out of legal trouble. Keep the professional wall between you and your employees intact.