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Could This Even Be Trouble For the Employer?

This week, the Washington Post ran a story on an example of a potentially disturbing trend in Human Resources practices. They told the tale of Justin Bassett. Bassett was interviewing for a new job. In the course of the interview, he was asked for his Facebook password. Bassett refused to give it and even walked out on the interview, saying he did not want to work for a company that would ask for such personal information.

If Justin Bassett’s experience were an anomaly, a strange occurrence that most companies would not repeat, that would be one thing. But, it is becoming more and more common for employers to ask for such things. And, it doesn’t stop at Facebook passwords. Some employers are asking for Twitter and other social site passwords, as well as email passwords.

Do you think Justin Bassett was right to walk out? Tell us in the comments.

It is not uncommon, and is almost expected nowadays, for employers to do comprehensive web searches on prospective employees. Companies want to know as much as they legally can find out about the people they are hiring. Is this person a habitual drunk? Does he have children? Does he have a tendency to bad-mouth his past employers publicly? Does he post potentially embarrassing material online?

Sometimes, a simple Facebook search will reveal a person’s profile, pictures, personal information, posts and comments. Especially with Facebook’s dizzying security and privacy policies and changes over the past few years, a person may not be aware of what they can hide and how. Combine that with Facebook’s incessant insistence that we “share” everything about ourselves so we can have a “better browsing experience”, and the possibility of embarrassing revelations gets almost unavoidable.

Employers who have not yet committed to hiring someone have free reign to reject their application for any legal reason, or no reason at all. They are under no obligation, generally, to explain themselves. So, any “hitches” their online search turns up could result in an application being summarily round-filed. It could be over political affiliation, lifestyle choices, friendships, opinions publicly stated, or any other reason. Employers don’t have to tell you why they “chose to go another direction”.

But, what if you’ve been careful? You’ve enabled privacy settings. You’ve insulated your Facebook and other accounts from public scrutiny. You Google yourself and run other checks regularly. Your public face is neat, even if your private life is wild. Is there some expectation that your life is your own? Can an employer rightly – or even legally – ask for your Facebook login and password so they can walk right through your meticulously set up barriers for privacy?

Justin Bassett thought not. And, he acted on his values in that case. He not only refused to grant access, but he withdrew his application and walked out. He was in that ideal position: to be able to evaluate his potential employer just as stringently as he was being evaluated. But, many people are not in a position to do that. They feel they must trade their opinions and values on such matters as privacy for a much-needed paycheck.

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