Apparently several employers have been demanding that applicants give them passwords to their Facebook accounts so they can get a look at their online background. The practice is illegal in many states where employers are only allowed to ask questions relating to an applicants ability to do the work they are applying for. Facebook and lawmakers have warned employers against requesting Facebook passwords while screening job applicants.
The practice has reportedly grown more commonplace as companies increasingly regard profiles - or embarrassing photos from wild nights out - as windows into a prospective employee's character. Last Friday, Facebook Inc's Chief Privacy Officer, Erin Egan, posted a note warning that the social networking company could "initiate legal action" against employers that demand Facebook passwords. Lawmakers in several states and in Washington have also said they would introduce bills to prohibit companies from vetting employees by demanding access to private accounts.
"Employers can't ask in the course of an interview your sexual orientation, your age, and yet social media accounts may have that information," Leland Yee, a California state senator said. "Employers have legitimate questions about a person's job performance, but they can get that information the regular way, without cutting corners and violating people's privacy."
Egan said in a post on Facebook's website published on Friday that the social networking company has seen in recent months "a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people's Facebook profiles. "We don't think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don't think it's the right thing to do. But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don't hire that person."
The issue came up this week after the Associated Press reported that employers are increasingly asking to look at content job applicants have uploaded to their digital accounts, regardless of whether that content is shared or not. In the case of Maryland Department of Corrections, job applicants were asked to browse through their own Facebook accounts with an interviewer present.
The ACLU, which previously criticized the Maryland state government's online vetting, called the practice "an invasion of privacy" in a statement this week. "You'd be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside," said ACLU attorney Catherine Crump. "It's equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person's private social media account."
As a person who spent an entire career involved in the hiring and firing of employees and who taught college courses on the subject, I find this invasion of privacy and attempt to circumvent employment laws is not at all surprising. Many people have an unfortunate way of putting way too much private information about themselves on their websites forgetting (or not caring) that they are making that information available to anyone and for all time. That does not excuse the invasion of their privacy by prospective employers and I applaud Facebook for taking a stance on this issue. It's nice to know some of these guys have a sense of right and wrong. That said, I wonder if Facebook would have taken the same stance if employers were offering to pay Facebook a fee for accessing job applicants files.....
Live Long and Prosper...