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March 27, 2012

Hiring Trend Could be Invasion of Applicants’ Privacy

Filed under: Discrimination,Employment Law,General HR Buzz12:01 pm

Technology has gone a long way toward improving our productivity and networking abilities.  When a friend and I recently met for coffee, we shared a few tips and tools we’ve found in our smartphones (I would literally forget everything if I didn’t use the helpful reminders and calendar features).  However, we acknowledged that in some ways, we would also get so much more accomplished if we didn’t spend time browsing Facebook.

Facebook, and other social networking sites, such as Twitter, have brought us to a new level of intimate connections with many people we may not otherwise encounter.  By now, most of us are aware of possible implications if you “friend” a boss, or don’t take steps to ensure your page is private.  In fact one good example comes from one of my guilty pleasure indulgences, “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.”  Several of the candidates were disqualified from the team, not for lack of ability, but for the photos and risqué behavior displayed on their Facebook profiles.

So, what is an employer to do?  One recent trend that raises a red flag is employers who ask for applicants’ Facebook password.  Three months ago, the Virginia State Police instituted a new practice when interviewing potential recruits: the applicant must sign a waiver, and then log in to any social networking site he or she regularly uses in front of an administrator.  Virginia isn’t alone.  Until just recently, the city of Bozeman, Montana, and the Maryland Division of Correction were asking job applicants to hand over their passwords.  The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill requires its student athletes to “friend” a coach or other designated individual, so that their activity can be continually monitored.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the practice of employers requesting access to social networking sites is relatively new, and has steadily risen over the last year.  Public sector employers could be violating applicants’ Fourth Amendment rights by requesting the passwords.  Another concern for any employer is that you could unintentionally create a disparate treatment situation by viewing an applicant’s social networking activity.  For example, in an interview, you have successfully avoided the questions you shouldn’t ask, such as “Do you have any children?”  However, by viewing social networking profiles, you can often discover this information.

As an employer, we want to take steps to ensure we are hiring the right person for the job, while also taking steps to minimize potential for legal issues with negligent hiring or harassment claims.  We have to balance that necessity with protection from possible discrimination claims from potential applicants.

Big Brother Wants Your Facebook Password

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