CLEVELAND — Employers checking their employees’ social media posts is common, but now some have begun asking applicants for their passwords.
The story of New York statistician Justin Bassett has been rapidly circulating on the Internet.
Bassett said he was interviewing for a job when the interviewer asked for his Facebook username and password.
The stunned applicant said he “didn’t want to work for a company that would seek such personal information,” and he withdrew his application.
But Bassett is not alone.
It’s called “Shoulder Surfing” because a potential employer literally sees everything about the person.
And a growing number of job seekers say they have been asked for their social media passwords.
In one Maryland case involving a corrections officer the ACLU filed a complaint.
Legislation has now been proposed in Maryland and Illinois governing employers’ access to an employees’ social media accounts.
“Actually to require employees only be limited to certain pieces of information, or all together prohibited from requiring access to social media sites based upon invasion of privacy principles,” said Cleveland Attorney Shannon Polk.
Polk and his firm Haber, Polk & Kabat LLC have won many high profile workplace discrimination lawsuits including a $47 million jury judgement, which was the single largest plaintiff employment verdict in Ohio history.
Attorney Polk said employers want good workers but it’s a slippery slope.
In this job market it could be seen as coercion, profiling or worse.
“In some cases it would provide the ability to know if they’re of a particular age or sexual orientation, things that in certain jurisdictions could potentially lead to cause of action,” Polk said.
However, some employers have said social media sites are the single best tool in trying to conduct a comprehensive background check on an applicant, and if they don’t like it they can find another job.
Polk said, “To some extent that’s entirely accurate. I would tell you there is nothing unlawful over an employer denying someone the ability to be evaluated for a job based on not wanting to disclose that information.”
Attorney Polk foresees two things happening in the future: additional litigation and new legislation.
In the meantime he said people need to be aware of what they post whether or not it’s an employer evaluating the type of information you are putting out on the web or not.
“It’s a dangerous thing for employers as well as employees,” said Polk.
And students at Cleveland State University who will soon be out in the job market agree.
“I think it’s a bit invasive,” said Ricardo Brown.
Brian Coleman added, “I think it’s definitely an invasion of privacy.”
So would they give an employer their passwords?
“I wouldn’t give it to them,” said Lisa Fellows, ”No thank you!”