What you post on social media has the potential to impact your current job and your future employment prospects. 

But not all businesses have explicit social media policies that tell you what is and isn’t acceptable to post.  

So how should you conduct yourself on social media and what kinds of posts could land you in hot water with your boss? 

Re: News spoke with YouthLaw Aotearoa solicitor Paul Paek, who mainly deals with employment law cases, to find out. 

Why do employers care about what you post on social media? 

It’s all about managing risk. 

When you’re applying for a job, your employer understands that what you’ve said on your CV and how you behave in your interview is a front — it’s one part of who you are.

Social media can be a much bigger picture of what you’re like and what you’ve been through. 

It’s not easy to fire someone in New Zealand so employers want to make sure they hire the right person to begin with. 

Looking at your social media helps them make sure you’ll benefit their company and not be a risk. 

It also helps them figure out whether you’ll fit in well with their work culture, and understand and respect your colleagues. 

How likely are employers to do a social media background check in NZ?

Social media checks are an easy, no-cost option so anyone could do it. 

Even if a company doesn’t say it conducts social media checks, they could still be Googling you and your publicly available social media interactions could come up. 

You might be more likely to face a social media check if you apply for a job in Government or a Government-funded agency, like a hospital or a law centre. 

What green flags do employers look for in a social media check? 

Posts about you volunteering in the community or celebrating goals you’ve worked towards, like a sporting achievement for example. 

These posts show you have discipline which might show an employer that you’re more likely to hit their company’s key performance indicators. 

If other people have posted nice things about your character, that’s also good evidence. 

On the flip side, what red flags do employers look for? 

Anything you upload or any post you’re tagged in has the potential to be incorrectly interpreted. 

An employer could misinterpret photos of you partying as a sign that you’re a big drinker and you won’t be there to clarify the context of those photos. 

I’m not saying you’ll be immediately written off because of those photos but if an employer is comparing two candidates for a job and one of them has a flawless social media account, that might be the deciding factor. 

It’s not just young people who should be wary. If a middle aged person is applying for a new job and they have an old Facebook page they haven’t maintained for years, that could pop up to haunt them. 

Will the political or sexual content I post impact my relationship with my workplace? 

If you post strong political views publicly and in a way that's provocative, your colleagues might disagree with you. 

Businesses care about employees working productively in unity. If you stand in the way of that, there is a high likelihood they will investigate the situation.

It’s very hard to know if photos that are sexual in nature will affect your job. 

It all comes down to understanding the company you work for. You’ve got to know what industry you’re in, what kind of person your employer wants to employ, and whether your social media reflects that. 

Is it safe to complain about my workplace on a private social media account? 

Anything online is not ‘safe’ because it's out there. 

Once you get hired, your posts about partying might largely go under the radar. 

But if you post about work, it will get picked up fast. 

Even if you're in a private messaging group, it could be leaked and shared. 

A manager could confiscate your phone and rifle through your posts. 

Even if their method is inappropriate, if they see the post where you’ve complained about work, the damage has been done. 

We’ve had cases where managers have got a hold of private message groups which has resulted in employment disputes. 

If you really want to rant, go home and do it to your family. 

What happens if my employer sees my complaints about them on social media? 

It depends on the severity of what you’ve posted. 

An employer could pull you into a disciplinary meeting and, in the worst case scenario, you could get fired. 

If you’re not fired, you could be put under more supervision, put under a performance review (where your employer formally evaluates your work) or get a formal warning. 

On top of that, your relationships with your colleagues will be damaged and you might end up looking over your shoulder for the rest of your time at the company. 

If your post says something that is untrue, it could be classed as defamation but in New Zealand it's not very likely that a company would pursue a defamation case against a young employee. 

A lot of employment cases end up at mediation, where the issue is dealt with privately. 

If the issue can’t be managed privately, it could go up to the Employment Relations Authority and the case information becomes public. 

Regardless of who wins the case, if your future employer Googles your name and sees you’ve been involved in an employment dispute, they might want to stay away from you. 

Your search for future employment could also be affected badly if you get into an employment dispute with your current workplace and they give you a bad reference. 

Will my boss be upset if I don’t accept their friend request? 

It could be a very normal thing for them and they might be sending all of their staff friend requests, in which case you could ask your colleagues if they’ve received a request too. 

Or maybe they’re trying to keep tabs on you. 

Again, it comes down to understanding your employer and what their intentions are. 

If you have a public facing account and a private account, you could just connect with them on your public account.

What should I do if I get called out at work for something I posted online? 

You should get in touch with a lawyer or an employment advocate so they can make sure your employer correctly handles disciplinary action. 

It’s free to go to your nearby Community Law centre or YouthLaw if you’re 24 or under.

How do I make sure my social media doesn’t badly impact my employment? 

Google yourself to understand what your internet footprint looks like and what posts you’ve been tagged in. 

It might help you find any fake accounts that people have made using your name or images. 

Keep track of all of your accounts, especially ones that are public and have been dormant for a while. 

If you have a LinkedIn, make sure it’s updated with your latest experience so that it's consistent with the CV you’ve submitted for job applications so you don't look like you lied on your CV. 

Always remember that any social media post is an extension of yourself so make sure that your posts benefit you. 

You don’t want to get your dream job, only to lose it because of something you posted online.

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