What to do When Your Boss is a Cyberspace Invader

Has Your Boss Crossed the Line?

Posted Jul 05, 2014

Your Boss is Following You

When you turn on your computer there is a new bolded item in your Inbox: Your boss is now following you on Twitter. There is an initial burst of spontaneous flattery that your boss is interested in you and your online musings.  But flattery soon turns to fear and anxiety as you start mentally thinking through all of your recent Tweets, wondering if God forbid you have said anything that you wouldn’t want your boss to read. 

While you know Twitter is public, you feel a bit violated nonetheless.  You didn’t expect this new follower. While certainly your boss’ reasons for wanting to read your off-the-clock online musings might be innocent, unfortunately, less-than-admirable intentions come to mind as well.

When you run into your boss the next morning in the lunchroom, you feel decidedly awkward as you envision her sitting in her bedroom last night night reading your online musings about the social and political events of the day.  She has better things to do, you remind yourself.  Yet—why did she want to follow you in the first place? 

The False Friend

But it could be worse.  Existing on your 140 character sound bites won’t satiate the appetite of someone who wants to delve further into your personal life.  Perhaps your clever Tweets have piqued the interest of your boss a little too much, and now she wants to be your Facebook friend.  Wait a minute . . . why?

Think about it.  Your boss is boldly seeking to access a higher level of private information. Depending on your relationship, this type of request might be perfectly appropriate.  However, many employees are not comfortable granting their employer this type of access into their personal lives—particularly online, where many employees let their hair down. 

And then there is the issue of how you should respond.  In some states, your boss can’t ask you for your Facebook password, or require you to access your account in his or her presence.  But what if your boss sends you a Facebook Friend request? 

First of all, resist the temptation to be flattered by the fact that your boss has an interest in you on Facebook.  A Friend request is very different from wanting to follow your blog page or your postings on a public site like Twitter.  A Friend request is a request to access your personal life.  After all, if your boss was seeking merely public information she could just Google you.  But let’s face it, when prying for personal information, Google just isn’t good enough anymore.

So why is your boss interested?  Is there a good answer to this question?  Maybe she wants to make sure you are not posting language, photos, or videos that would embarrass the company.  Or perhaps she has an interest in you that is more than professional.

Another possibility is that your boss has no personal life and is looking for a little vicarious entertainment.  After all, sometimes it’s lonely at the top.  Unfortunately, a superior viewing your personal information to scratch this kind of an itch may come at your expense – depending on the reaction to what she views on your site.

Or maybe your boss has a little cyber stalking habit. But before you get carried away with nefarious explanations for your bosses’ heightened level of interest in you, consider whether regardless of the explanation, the actions of your boss are appropriate under the circumstances.

Blurring Boundaries

The fact that your boss sent you the Friend request in the first place is problematic.  Obviously, you are going to feel pressured to accept it.  Sure, you could feign ignorance and pull the old “I don’t really know how to use this site” routine, or claim never to have seen the request.  But your boss’ audacity in sending the request is unsettling in and of itself.   What’s next?  A request to visit your home?

By sending the request, you may feel like your boss is demonstrating disrespect for personal boundaries.  After all, there are public sites like LinkedIn where your boss can view business related professional information about you and your qualifications.  Most people know that Facebook is for personal information. 

You might analogize the situation to a happy hour conversation where perhaps your boss might ask you a few personal questions, but certainly would not ask you for a key to your house.  On the other hand, some modern employers have not considered the heightened level of access to personal life that being Facebook friends affords.

Regardless of the explanation, however, before you give in to the pressure to hit “accept,” take the time to familiarize yourself with the laws of your state that govern the level of intrusion your employer is allowed to exert.

Know Your Rights

Many employees automatically grant superiors access to personal information because they are overcome with the power dynamics of the modern workplace—not to mention the need for financial stability.  They automatically grant access to personal information without considering the consequences or appropriateness of such requests by their employers.  Some employers, on their part, exhibit the same degree of recklessness in seeking to access the private information of their employees.

In deciding whether you want to permit such boundaries to be crossed, empower yourself by knowing your legal rights.  Research the state and federal laws that govern in your jurisdiction.  You are entitled to maintain professional boundaries both on and offline.  Consider whether in some cases, the wisest course of conduct is using your computer delete button.  And perhaps looking for a new job.

About the author:

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert.  She is the author of author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). 

She lectures around the world on sexual assault prevention, healthy relationships, and reading red flags.  She also teaches workplace violence and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. 

Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD