Should the King Have your Social Media Passwords?

In a Land not so far away there was a job opening in the Kingdom…The King directed his Human Resource Queen to ask the applicant’s Facebook account passwords. “I am in charge here and I want to know what kind of people I’m hiring!” pronounced the King. Great idea, it’s like an instant background check. Hold on a minute your Highness! How many laws could you accidentally break by having this information?!?!

Ask any 10 people their opinion of Social Media and you’ll get 10 different answers. Exciting, fresh, invasive, scary, voyeuristic and just plain too much! Each day I see something new (OMG, have you seen Pinterest?) and get excited, then overwhelmed. Before I hit the “YOU AGREE TO GIVE YOUR FIRST BORN AND ALL OF YOUR INFORMATION TO GET OUR FREE SERVICE” I panic and deep breathe to decide if it’s worth it. I tell everyone I know; once it’s out there you can’t get it back.

In the world of HR, Social Media has been kind of a heaven for background checking secretly. People are so afraid of being sued that you get one word answers when you call to check a previous employer. Let’s face it; applicants only put the good references down anyway. So does it hurt to take a peek? Maybe. Now it seems like we don’t peek, we demand it all. Sign here and give me your user name and password. If you have nothing to hide, what’s the difference?

This is new and employers are jumping in feet first. Please, let me stop you. At least let me help you think about loosing the Kingdom to a discrimination lawsuit.

If you view me on Facebook you will see nothing unless you are my friend. Not because I’m out there living a crazy life, but because I use Facebook to communicate with family, there are pictures of my minor son. I don’t friend people I work with or people from high school that I don’t remember. It’s my private place.

If I let you in (or a potential employee does), you would know a lot from my pictures and comments. Where I live, if I’m married and have kids, how old I am, what religion I am, that I volunteer for certain charities, who my friends are, what nationality I am besides American, if I drink and what I drive. I’m sure you could figure out much more about me but I’ll stop there and make my point.

All Human Resource managers know the questions you can’t ask an applicant, someone interviewing for a promotion or an employee. All these can be answered by looking on my Facebook page and more:

• Are you a citizen?
• What religion do you practice?
• Do you belong to a club or social organization?
• How old are you?
• Do you have kids?
• Are you married?
• Do you smoke or drink?
• Any recent illnesses?
• How far is your commute?
• Are you a member of the Reserves?

You may think, “I would never discriminate based on those answers” and that may be true. The point is you aren’t supposed to ask them so you aren’t exposed to those answers. BUT YOU LOGGED INTO THEIR FACEBOOK PAGES!

There is a personal connection in an interview and all things being equal, you hire candidate B. Pretend I’m candidate A, you have found I’m catholic, have a son that I take to a lot of activities, my car broke down twice last month, I have friends with an alternative lifestyle and varied nationalities, I’m over 40, I’m a women, had a back injury this summer and like an occasional beer.

Had you not been exposed to my Facebook profile you could honestly say none of these were factors in the hiring decision. But you’ve opened up Pandora’s Box! You would have to prove it if you were sued. Your Kingdom is in jeopardy!

I heard a story the other day of a young teacher that did not get hired because they looked at her Facebook and there were pictures of her in short shorts and a tank top with a beer. The principal was concerned that parents may find her on Facebook and it may create problems. So they hired a male teacher instead. It makes me wonder, at that school are you not allowed to wear shorts or drink a perfectly legal product on your day off? Upon getting hired would this be in the handbook? If not, it better not be in the interview process. That principal probably had perfect reasons for hiring the male teacher over the young shorts wearing, drinking beer female. But we will never know because he had that information. Does it sound discriminatory to you?

If you are concerned about Facebook and other social media sites, you can write policy to direct your employees. There are some School Districts that instruct teachers to eliminate their pages completely or have them under a different name so they can’t be searched by students or parents.

Other employers have rules about discussing work on their pages or friending customers. Create a policy that makes you comfortable but doesn’t invade someone’s private information.

This is just beginning. Facebook is threatening to sue to protect their user’s privacy. Illinois Lawmaker La Shawn Ford is floating a bill to protect privacy for employees. It’s being rewritten right now with some wording for employers. This is going to take a while to sort out. Don’t move too fast!

We all want the people working in our Kingdom to be upstanding and great hires. Let them show you with work resumes, background checks and interviews (have several, maybe with different members of the team).

The information to which your Kingdom can be exposed may do more harm than good. So slow down Your Highness and think about privacy and why it’s protected.

Click here to the EEOC’s Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers.

Tell us what you think in the comments’ section: Do you think employers should ask for and get access to Facebook accounts and passwords?

About evilqueenhr

Once upon a time there was a boring HR person sitting in a back office filling out paperwork spouting sections from the handbook. I’m not that HR person. Work is a scary and sometimes funny place with lots of lessons to learn along the way. People don’t follow the rules, it’s HR’s job to steer them in the right direction. Unfortunately there are no apples with spells to make the bad employees fall asleep until we can recruit new ones. My Name is Denise Benages and I have been in the Human Resource field for over 16 years. I am president of HR Midwest, Inc. I plan on telling the epic lore of the workplace and help with solutions. Don't Bite the Apple...Work is not a fairy tale!
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