Being asked for your Facebook login and password at a job interview. Does this sound scary to you? It does to me that’s for sure, but nonetheless this was what happened to a guy from Seattle.
Justin Bassett from Seattle recently left a job interview in anger after being asked for his Facebook login information so the employer could check out his profile which was hidden from people who are not his friends. The employer had asked Justin the usual questions about experience, references and some character questions when she took out her laptop and found his profile on Facebook. Unfortunately for her Justin Bassett had been smart enough to hide all his personal information from strangers and only show it to people who are his friends on Facebook. The determined interviewer didn’t settle for this and so she turned the laptop around and asked Mr. Bassett for his login information so she could check out his profile.
Bassett refused (obviously!) to give this to her and immediately got up and left the job interview and told them he would never want to work for a company that asked this from their applicants. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronted with the same question from prospective employers, and some of them simply cannot afford to say no.
“It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys,” said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor who calls it “an egregious privacy violation.”
Questions are being raised if this practice is even legal, it is also the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that will forbid public agencies to be asking applicants for their Social Networking login details. Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publically 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.
The companies that don’t ask for the applicants’ login details have tried taking other steps, some are asking applicants to friend the human resources manager or to log into their account on a computer during the interview. Asking for a candidate’s password is more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers.
Once employed some people have also been asked to sign non-disparagement agreements that bans them from mentioning their employer in a negative manner on social media.
In 2010 Robert Collins wanted to return to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, he had been on a leave following the death of his mother. During an interview he had to complete to be reinstated he was asked for his login and password for Facebook, the agency said it was so they could check for any gang affiliations, Collins was stunned by the request but he complied. “I needed my job to feed my family. I had to,” he recalled.
After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.
“To me, that’s still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it’s still a violation of people’s personal privacy,” said Collins, whose case inspired Maryland’s legislation.
Until last year, the city of Bozeman, Mont., had a long-standing policy of asking job applicants for passwords to their email addresses, social-networking websites and other online accounts.
And since 2006, the McLean County, Ill., sheriff’s office has been one of several Illinois sheriff’s departments that ask applicants to sign into social media sites to be screened.
Chief Deputy Rusty Thomas defended the practice, saying applicants have a right to refuse. But no one has ever done so. Thomas said that “speaks well of the people we have apply.”
When asked what sort of material would jeopardize job prospects, Thomas said “it depends on the situation” but could include “inappropriate pictures or relationships with people who are underage, illegal behavior.”