March 25, 2012

Rachel Strella

Send Cover Letter, Resume and...Facebook Log-ins?

You may have heard the recent news about Justin Bassett, who took part in the most talked about job interview in recent memory. In doing research about Bassett, company representatives were unable to see his private Facebook profile. Instead of accepting, the employer asked for his username and password to access the account.

I was stunned to read this and was curious what others thought about it. I reached out to get feedback from folks on my social networks, including my Personal Brand Management group on LinkedIn. Here are a few of the reactions that I received:

Karen Metz:

I don’t believe that employers should have the right to monitor what employees do in their leisure time. However, I do think that behavior that is potentially damaging or could sabotage the reputation of a business does need to be addressed. We are living in an economy where companies have plenty of well-qualified applicants so they can be very picky about their choices. Even hospitals are now rejecting potential applicants who smoke or use any tobacco products. What is the next hiring criterion: obesity, social drinking, and junk food junkies, those who engage in extreme sports?

John Carrigan:

In the current market, an employer can be very selective in whom they hire. That being said, depending on the position the person will fill, I want to know everything I can learn about a prospective employee. I realize that they will become a reflection of my businesses culture in everything they do. That is why references are so important.

Marco Echevarria:

Having a candidate sign in on Facebook during an interview or asking for their password is complete nonsense and I can't believe anyone would ever agree to that. In the article it states that this is most common for public agencies, law enforcement jobs... If this becomes widely accepted for those type of jobs, it won't be long until people will have to hand over their social media passwords just to get a job as a cashier at Wal-Mart.

Eric Thomas:

I'm not a fan of employers who "spy" on coworkers or employees because Facebook is an entity on the Internet and the net has so few laws. People get frustrated, they say stuff; both ends need to be taken with a grain of salt. Employers shouldn't be allowed to obtain log-ins, period. It's people being nosey and abusing power because they think they can.

Jennifer Grigg:

I think it is absolutely wrong for people to want your password and user info. It's like asking for the keys to the house to see if you make your bed or not. It's personal.

On Friday, Facebook responded. Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, said, “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.”

Additionally, she cautioned that if an employer discovers that a job applicant is a member of a protected group, the employer may open itself up to claims of discrimination if it doesn't hire that person.

So, what are the legalities involved in asking for personal log-ins?

So far two states - Illinois and Maryland - have proposed legislation that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks.

According to a story published last week, the Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

I spoke with business attorney Jan Matthew Tamanini of JMT Law, LLC to gain some insight.

Tamanini cited a 25-year-old federal law that addresses some of the privacy concerns that arise from online communications: the Stored Communications Act (SCA). “Congress passed the SCA in 1986 to deal with potential privacy breaches that the Fourth Amendment wouldn’t otherwise protect. The SCA protects Internet communications by limiting the government’s ability to force an ISP to hand over both content (actual communications) and non-content (such as logs and email ‘envelope’) information,” she said.

Moreover, Tamanini pointed out, “With access to your account, an employer could monitor not only your own personal postings, but also those of your friends and other contacts to whom your pages are linked.”

Tamanini suggested having something prepared (preferably in writing) in the event an interviewer (or a boss) asks for this private information. “Respectfully decline,” she said. “Your personal accounts belong to you alone. If you don’t get that second interview, or an offer, perhaps working for an employer who would be this intrusive wouldn’t be worth the stress its policies could cause. And should you lose your job, or be subjected to disciplinary action, for failing to comply, talk with an attorney with an employment law background.”

Turns out, Bassett did refuse to hand over his log-ins and withdrew his application. However, not all applicants believe they can refuse to hand over this personal information. Many are in need of a job.

Some job candidates, like Bassett, were smart enough to adjust their privacy settings, making them available only to selected people. However, I advise anyone on the web to be conscious of the information they post – regardless of privacy settings. If it’s on the Internet, it’s likely accessible in some way.

How do you feel about employers asking potential candidates for social networking log-ins? Join the conversation on our LinkedIn group.

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4 comments on “Send Cover Letter, Resume and...Facebook Log-ins?”

  1. I think the proper response to 'can we have your Facebook login information' would be 'I don't have a Facebook account.' How are they going to prove that you have one? Because someone with your name does?

    Lock down your Facebook account privacy settings, change your profile picture so it isn't of you, and play ignorant when someone asks for your Facebook login information. Or just turn around and walk away.

    There is always another job. Or, you can create your own (if you have the motivation).

    1. Jan,

      I just read about that! What timing!

      Glad something is being done. Thank you for sharing the link!


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