A young woman named Emily Clow applied for a job at marketing company Kickass Masterminds. She was stunned when the company then reposted a picture of her standing in a pool and wearing a bikini to Instagram. The picture showed Clow from the neck down and carried the following caption:
"PSA (because I know some of you applicants are looking at this): do not share your social media with a potential employer if this is the kind of content on it. I am looking for a professional marketer--not a bikini model."
Clow told the press that the reason she shared her social media handles with Kickass is because the company asked for them on its job application form. She says she reached out to Kickass by email and on social media repeatedly to ask the company to take down the photo but it blocked her instead. Kickass Masterminds CEO Sara Christensen told the BBC that she removed the image as soon as Clow made the request. Whichever is true, Clow decided to take her case to Twitter, where she posted the picture herself.
The image and her message about it went viral. Many on Twitter chided her, telling her that such social media scrutiny is the norm in today's job-hunting world. Others offered kudos or even jobs. Meantime, Christensen said, Kickass received "numerous death threats and thousands of harassing messages." As a result, all its social accounts--and its website--have now been deleted or made private.
There are a lot of lessons smart employers can learn from this incident, some of which my Inc.com colleague and HR expert Suzanne Lucas has already explained. One of those lessons is just beautifully ironic. Hiring managers, HR experts, career counselors, and social media experts have been drumming this warning into young job applicants for years: Never post anything to social media that you wouldn't want your employer to see. This was the very message Christensen seemed to be trying to teach when she posted the photo of Clow.
Hiring managers should consider that the reverse is also true: An employer should never post anything to social media that it wouldn't want its employees and job applicants to see. It would have been so simple for Christensen to grab a generic image of a woman in a revealing bikini from Getty Images or Creative Commons. She could have written precisely the same text on it and there would have been no issue.
To Christensen's credit, having made the initial mistake, she's done everything she can to contain the damage. Temporarily shutting down Kickass's social media accounts and website until people's attention moves elsewhere is a smart move. To her credit, she also publicly acknowledged that she made a mistake and wholeheartedly apologized to both Clow and her company's clients in a statement on Medium. She called herself "a great case study in what NOT to do." She also said she is not willing to comment publicly further, at least for now. My guess is that by accepting responsibility, unambiguously apologizing, and removing herself from any further conversation, she's given the story its best possible chance to simply be forgotten. I believe it will be soon enough.
But there's another lesson here that we should all think about, even if we would never consider posting a job applicant's picture to our company's social media. We all talk a lot these days about the disappearing line between life and work, about work-life balance, about people answering emails at their kitchen tables or on their smartphones in bed, way after hours. But even as "away from work" is an increasingly elusive concept and more people are working at home, so are workplaces becoming more like homes, complete with showers, kitchens, ping-pong tables, children, and even dogs. We talk about making the workplace more human. Well, humans sometimes attend pool parties, and sometimes they wear skimpy bathing suits. If they're doing it on their own time, there's no reason to feel ashamed, or to hide it.
Increasingly, these days, we invite employees to "bring their whole selves to work." We should be careful not to penalize them when they do.