But, if you think they do -- maybe you read this article last week -- then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you, sucker.
Come on! The sky isn't falling. Demanding social media
access from employees and potential hires and is most definitely the exception
and not the rule. And I'll set the record straight on this bad business
For starters, this is old news and only
involves a scant few employers.
This whole mishegas was rekindled last week when the AP published this story, entitled "Job seekers getting asked for
Facebook passwords". (I know this because about ten readers of this
blog forwarded it to me). I say "rekindled" because the AP
article discussed two notorious, but dated, instances in which employers -- the
City of Bozeman and the MD Department of Corrections -- made the mistake of
requesting social media logins and passwords as a condition of employment. Hey,
whattaya know, I scooped the AP by writing about the same two employers over
a year ago! More on that in a bit.
Unfortunately, not only does the AP article contain
several dated horror stories that jumped the shark long before Kris Humphries
popped the queston to Kim Kardashian (remember that?), it sensationalizes how
businesses spy on employees and job candidates:
In their efforts to vet applicants, some
companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a
person's social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to
have a look around....Since the rise of social networking, it has become common
for managers to review publically [sic] available Facebook profiles, Twitter
accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. But many users,
especially on Facebook, have their profiles set to private, making them
available only to selected people or certain networks.
Companies that don't ask for passwords have
taken other steps -- such as asking applicants to friend human resource
managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview...
Not sure the source for these "statistics".
What I can tell you is that when I presented "Social Media for HR: Practical Guidance from a Generation Y
Attorney" a few weeks ago to a packed house of HR professionals at the
SHRM 2012 Employment Law and Legislative Conference
in Washington, DC, no one in the room -- not a single person --
admitted to requiring job applicants to turn over private social media
information, including logins and passwords. Most rolled their eyes or laughed
at this "practice". (Maybe 10% acknowledged accessing publicly
available social media content, which is legal, to conduct background checks on
You know why employers don't demand
passwords? It may not be legal.
As I wrote here
last year, the Stored Communications Act makes it illegal for a person or
entity to intentionally access electronically-stored communications without
authorization. In the hiring context, conditioning a job offer on a candidate
having to hand over the keys to a social media account may be viewed as
coercive; akin to access without authorization. Indeed, Facebook's Chief
Privacy Officer, Erin Egan, issued a statement last week in which Facebook
threatened to take action against employers that demand that employees provide
access to private portions of their Facebook accounts:
Facebook takes your privacy seriously. We'll
take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by
engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action,
including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.
Although the statement doesn't specifically mention which
law(s) Facebook would avail itself in coming after employers, in the past,
Facebook has relied upon the Computer
Fraud and Abuse Act (h/t Trading Secrets). And I imagine that the Stored
Communications Act would another be weapon in the Facebook arsenal. Just ask
the ACLU, who previously brandished the Stored Communications Act in a cease and desist letter to the Maryland Department of
Corrections. It should come as no surprise then that the ACLU praised Facebook for speaking out against forcing
job candidates to divulge private information.
As if the spectre of Facebook suing weren't bad enough,
employers who demand that job candidates and employees reveal online passwords,
may have new federal legislation with which to deal. Last Wednesday, Tony
Romm at Politico reported that Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) may draft
legislation that would ban employers from asking job seekers for access to
their private Facebook accounts. Here is the Senator speaking to Bloomberg about it.
Yesterday, Michelle Myers at CNET reported here that Blumenthal and Sen Charles Schumer (D-NY) asked
the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to
investigate what they call a "new disturbing trend" of prospective
employers demanding job applicants to turn over their user names and passwords
for their social networks.
New disturbing trend, huh...
Putting aside the legalities of demanding
access, why would employers bother?
That's the question I raised last year when I opined that demanding access to a
candidate's password-protected online information completely undermines an
early opportunity to build a long-term trusting working relationship
with a new hire:
If a job applicant posts questionable
material online such that anyone can view it, then -- content aside -- he/she
displays bad judgment. Conversely, restricting public access to online content
--good or bad -- shows that the candidate can keep his/her personal life
personal. And there is something to be said about an employee who know how to
keep his/her personal life out of the workplace.
How many questions do you ask in a job
interview about a candidate's personal life? Exactly. Generally, employers do
not require applicants to pull skeletons out of the closet. Why should the
standard be any different for online behavior? It shouldn't.
Jason Shinn at the Michigan Employment Law Advisor agrees:
First, it is hard to dispute that some
minimal level of privacy should be afforded by an employer to an employee or
job applicant. Certainly there may be circumstances where this respect needs to
give way to a competing and compelling interest. But absent such circumstances,
what is the need to peruse a person's private Facebook profile?
It should then come as no surprise that a big reason why
employers don't conduct social-media background checks of potential hires --
let alone demand access to privacy-filtered information -- is that few care
about employees' private lives insofar as employees check their outside issues
and problems at the door when they come to work.
But, if you are one of the few employers, which does
demand that employees and potential hires provide you with full access to their
social media content, unless you have a damn good reason -- I dunno, maybe you
operate the Secret Service -- you may want to consider discontinuing that
The rest of you -- the vast majority of you --
should take this whole forcing employees to turn over passwords to their social
networks as what it really is: a non-story.
This article was originally published on Eric B. Meyer's blog, The Employer
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decidFunny how you would think it's no big deal for companies to invade a persons privacy. Hell, Lets all bury our heads in the sand. Then maybe companies can do whatever they want.
Who knows, Companies may even decide to put cameras in your bedroom to make sure you are not having sex or masturbating the night before you have to go to work,. With the excuse that you need all your energies to contribute to their productivity.
That was a joke, I hope!
Get real, this is a big deal!. And I for one am glad it is being exposed in the News channels.
Thank you for your time.
"Liberty or death!!".
Remember that next time you think that having Big Brother watch you is no big deal, We fought for freedom, Now is not the time to lose it to a bunch of republican overseers.