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Want to Friend Your Employer?

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Would you be okay with Dave from human resources regularly monitoring your Facebook account?  We have all known for some time that employers routinely check information publicly available on the Internet about current and potential employees as part of background checks and other employment decisions.  Somehow, we’re okay with that because it is already out there.  But, did you know that some employers are requiring greater or complete access to your private online accounts (e.g., Facebook) to either continue employment or to get hired?  The purported reasons for requiring this are to ensure you are not engaged in nefarious activities.  Instances of such demands are cropping up in state agencies, local police forces, and on college sports teams.

Many have focused on the fact that employers are now doing this and have decried the intrusion into privacy and the “big brother” overreach by government employers.  But, the intended and unintended consequences for both employers and employees go far beyond the obvious and will affect:

  • Individuals’ First Amendment rights;
  • Private and public employers’ rights to establish their own hiring and employment practices;
  • Workers’ rights in the U.S. and in other countries;
  • Potential liabilities for employers continuously monitoring social media accounts;
  • How social media is used (or not) by the general public;
  • Development of “underground” social media accounts – possibly headquartered outside of the United States; and,
  • Free flow of information and ideas.

Additionally, where will this demand for private information stop?  Will employers demand access to your bank account to ensure you are properly managing your money?  Will they require access to private email accounts to monitor your communications?  Will they demand access to your health records to ensure you are not eating too much junk food?  How would any of these be so different than demanding access to a Facebook account?

Some state legislatures are now considering legislation to ban employers from requiring social media passwords from job applicants.  The federal government has not yet taken a stance regarding the practice.  Time will tell the outcome of this firestorm, but all parties – employees, employers, and the government – have a lot to lose.

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