An Un”Friend”ly Request

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Are Employers Crossing An Ethical Line By Requesting Facebook Passwords?

To Americans, the right to privacy is a precious freedom.  But, Constitutional issues aside, is your interviewer crossing an ethical line in asking you to provide your Facebook password?

This dismaying development in the job-seeking process was first reported in March by the Associated Press and has generated a flurry of media commentary in ABC News,  The New York Times and Forbes, to name a few.

As if your job search wasn’t stressful enough!  Now in addition to constructing the perfect resume, developing your marketing plan, networking and prepping for that hard-won interview, it’s possible that you’ll also be asked to share your Facebook password during the interview and hiring process.  Alternatively, you might be asked to log on to your Facebook page right then and there so the interviewer can take a tour!

In this tough economy, can your refusal to comply with such a request be a deal breaker for the employer? Or does the request become a deal breaker for you?

And, this does not apply only to job applicants; students are also being asked to hand over their Facebook passwords, as evidenced by an incident at Minnewaska Area Schools in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in response to a perceived offense and proactively as a preventative measure, respectively.

What You Can Do If You’re Asked For Your Facebook Password Or Access to the Restricted Areas of Your Facebook page?

(1)  Know Which Questions Are Legitimate and Which Are Illegal

You should be aware of which information is appropriate and which is illegal for an interviewer or employer to ask a candidate.  The degree to which a candidate is vetted will depend on the specific industry (the financial, government and healthcare industries are a few of the more regulated industries), the law, which varies from state to state, and the position for which you are applying.

To protect yourself from illegal interviewing and hiring practices, you should check your state employment laws.  To educate yourself is to empower yourself.

  • Check Credit / Criminal Records:   Such requests are considered reasonable and normal.  There are restrictions, however; candidates must be allowed to respond to and explain any negative findings.
  • Medical Records:  Employers cannot ask you for your medical records and history, including genetic information, except to determine whether a particular disability will prevent you from performing the specific job duties for which you are being hired.
  • Military Service:  The Military may disclose certain information about your service without your consent, but most information usually requires your consent.
  • Drug Testing and Finger-printing: This is routine in certain industries, such as Government, Finance and Healthcare.
  • Age, Ethnicity, Pregnancy Plans, Sexual Orientation, Race, and Religion:  These categories are out of bounds according to the EEOC.

Accordingly, by requesting – or demanding – an applicant’s Facebook password, or insisting to be “friended,” an employer is effectively asking to view an applicant’s private information to which it may not be entitled.

(2)  Suggested Responses:

  • “My professional profile is on my LinkedIn page, which I am happy to share with you and which is noted on my resume.” (Ensure that you have an updated LinkedIn page and that its address is included on your resume.) 
  • “My Facebook page is intended only for my family and close friends to view.” 
  • “My practice is never to share my passwords, as privacy and protecting against identity theft are of paramount importance to me.  I can assure you that if you hire me, this practice will extend to protecting the privacy, identity, confidentiality and reputation of the company.” 

From The Company’s Perspective

It’s always wise to try to understand the opposing viewpoint.  Why are some companies resorting to what appears to be a bizarre and desperate attempt to violate an individual’s privacy?  Ironically, today companies, organizations and agencies are more concerned than ever with protecting their privacy and reputations.  This is very likely the result of the rapid changes that have occurred in a short time over the past decade and a half, beginning with the commercialization of the Internet in 1996 and the ensuing globalization of the economy, the entrance of Gen Y into the marketplace in 2002, the launching of Facebook in 2004 and the emergence of The Great Recession in 2008.  Along the way, many companies have been burned by  employees who have caused damage on one end by failing to fit in with the corporate culture and conduct themselves appropriately on a daily basis to the other end where they have compromised the integrity, reputations and survival of the companies who hired them by their “white collar” criminal actions.  Such experiences certainly do not excuse employers who attempt to invade a job applicant’s privacy; but might account for why some companies are taking ill-advised steps to over-compensate for what they might consider previous lax employee vetting procedures.  

The silver lining might be that — as indicated in some media reports — the action by some employers who have requested Facebook passwords of their job applicants has prompted legislation to be introduced in some states to ban the practice.

Preventative Measures

However, whether you are a high school or college student or young professional, it’s important to understand that despite all the rules, laws, court rulings and promises by companies and individuals, there really is no iron-clad guarantee that the personal information you post online will remain private.  Even before the Internet changed everyone’s life, there were ways of uncovering private information to the embarrassment – and worse – of people and entities.  The nature of the Internet has made it virtually impossible to participate in this new age technology without the risk of exposing your personal information.

Accordingly, the best advice remains: don’t post anything online that you don’t want to go viral.  Because someday it just might.  At the very least, it might be seen by people in a position to do something important for you.  And, they might not like what they see.  Instead, practice what I like to call the Triple A Approach to your online presence: Attractive, Appealing and Appropriate!

Until next time,

Jeanne

2 thoughts on “An Un”Friend”ly Request

  1. Jeanne says:

    Dear Moushumi,As Facebook is a personal social medium, while many employers are interested in seeing any and all of a candidate's postings on the Internet, aside from the situation covered in my blog entry, not being able to view your private Facebook profile or not having a Facebook account shouldn't be a deal breaker. On the other hand, LinkedIn is a professional medium on which most employers and recruiters will expect to find your profile. Therefore, you should consider using it to market your experience, activities, skills and achievements and network with other professionals; thus, you should adjust your privacy settings appropriately to fit your goals and comfort level. Research indicates that employers are more likely to open a LinkedIn profile if there is a picture.Best regards,Jeanne

    Like

  2. Moushumi Kamal says:

    Jeanne, Is it a deal breaker for employers if a candidate’s Facebook and LinkedIn profile is private? I was also wondering how important is it to have a picture on LinkedIn? Thanks,

    Like

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