On Facebook Passwords and Employment

There’s been a lot of talk these days about employers asking potential employees for their social media credentials. Facebook, in particular, has issued strong resistance against this trend, going so far as publicly explaining their stance in a blog post:

The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidents of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords.  If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends.  We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information. 

As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job.  And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.  That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do.  But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating.  For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person. 

Today, The House of Representatives shut down a bill that would have prevented employers from demanding your Facebook password. So, what’s the worst that could happen?

Reginald Braithwaite has a fictional post on the matter titled “I Hereby Resign”. Just imagine if this scenario played out for real (if it hasn’t already somewhere around the world):

One of the new terms is that every prospective new hire allow their manager to “shoulder surf” as they browse their Facebook or better still, to voluntarily log their manager into their Facebook account. If I recall correctly, she claims that we have the obligation to do a “background check” on prospective hires. I’m extremely vague on the correlation between faux-promiscuous sex or drinking and employee performance, but as she is a seasoned veteran, I have to trust her when she says that things like this overrule my judgment as to who is and who isn’t fit to be a programmer in our employ.

I was willing to go along with things and see how they panned out. But today something went seriously wrong. I have been interviewing senior hires for the crucial tech lead position on the Fizz Buzz team, and while several walked out in a huff when I asked them to let me look at their Facebook, one young lady smiled and said I could help myself. She logged into her Facebook as I requested, and as I followed the COO’s instructions to scan her timeline and friends list looking for evidence of moral turpitude, I became aware she was writing something on her iPad.

 “Taking notes?” I asked politely.

 “No,” she smiled, “Emailing a human rights lawyer I know.” To say that the tension in the room could be cut with a knife would be understatement of the highest order. “Oh?” I asked. I waited, and as I am an expert in out-waiting people, she eventually cracked and explained herself.

“If you are surfing my Facebook, you could reasonably be expected to discover that I am a Lesbian. Since discrimination against me on this basis is illegal in Ontario, I am just preparing myself for the possibility that you might refuse to hire me and instead hire someone who is a heterosexual but less qualified in any way. Likewise, if you do hire me, I might need to have your employment contracts disclosed to ensure you aren’t paying me less than any male and/or heterosexual colleagues with equivalent responsibilities and experience.”
I got her out of the room as quickly as possible. The next few interviews were a blur, I was shaken. And then it happened again. This time, I found myself talking to a young man fresh out of University about a development position. After allowing me to surf his Facebook, he asked me how I felt about parenting. As a parent, it was easy to say I liked the idea. Then he dropped the bombshell.
His partner was expecting, and shortly after being hired he would be taking six months of parental leave as required by Ontario law. I told him that he should not have discussed this matter with me. “Oh normally I wouldn’t, but since you’re looking through my Facebook, you know that already. Now of course, you would never refuse to hire someone because they plan to exercise their legal right to parental leave, would you?”
Worth reading in its entirety. Think your stance on this issue doesn’t matter? Think again.

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