Asking for Facebook Passwords: Is This More Stupid HR?

by Michael Haberman on April 5, 2012 · 3 comments


There has now been enough activity on this that I decided to weigh-in on this topic. One of the early cases dealt with a Maryland corrections officer being asked for his password to Facebook during a background investigation as he sought reinstatement on a job. Needless to say he did not care for this demand (who among us would) and soon the ACLU was involved. His case however is not the only one. More and more employers are demanding access to Facebook and other social media as a condition of employment or even as a condition for obtaining an interview. My first thought on these situations was “Asking for Facebook passwords, is this more stupid HR?”

As a result of these activities by employers we now have elected representatives on both a state and national level working to pass legislation to prohibit this activity. Come on people do we really want more legislation to deal with???

I personally have a hard time understanding the business necessity of having someone’s Facebook password to their personal Facebook account. I know that some employers have said that they want to insure that they are getting the most suitable candidate by looking at how they act off the job. How did you do that in a pre-social media world? You didn’t. If it did not show up on a legal background check it didn’t make any difference. If the employee then did something later that embarrassed the company you dealt with it at that point. Just because you have a new tool does not give you the right to abuse the new tool.

I am of the opinion that I want an employee who can perform my work. I don’t care if they have a beer on the weekend, or attend a wine tasting and have their picture taken holding the glass. UNTIL it affects their performance I don’t care, then, when it does I deal with the performance issue. I agree with Mark Toth, of Manpower, who said in response to the question on whether this is a practice that employers should engage in “…Here’s my one-word answer:

 NO

It’s hard enough to find talent these days without giving candidates the impression right off the bat that your company is Big Brother-esque. Believe it or not, candidates might not think too highly of a prospective employer that demands access to their social media accounts in order to dig around in hidden photos, emails and other private info.”

We already have the NLRB stepping into the fray to protect the rights of employees to engage in “protected concerted activity”, we don’t need yet more legislation. So let’s restrain ourselves. Don’t be nosy, don’t be invasive, remain job relevant. The only time you should have an employee’s password is when the page or site they are working on is owned by the company. Make sure you have well-crafted social media policies to provide guidance to your employees on their social media use and its relationship to the company.

If you want more information on this controversy see:

Employer demands Facebook login credentials during interview

And

Demanding Facebook Passwords May Break Law, Say Senators

For an opposite point of view see:

Prospective Employees: Please Show Me Your Facebook Page    

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Russell Thomas April 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Those of us who have been in this business for many years know all too well to be cautious when looking at the HR flavor of the month. This latest fad is no doubt the result of some HR consultant thinking that he/she had a brainstorm, or some newly anointed MBA trying to make himself look good to his new employer. Use of this practice will be a lawsuit waiting to happen. It falls into another HR fad, rather than lookging at job qualifications, the new idea is to look at life style or “values” as a predictor of on the job success or failure. We sail into unchartered waters if we give into these fads.

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Marc Martin April 10, 2012 at 12:59 am

I agree that asking for Facebook passwords are an invasion of privacy. There should be a balance between professional and personal life. Each aspect judges the character of an individual. However, there is a boundary between work and personal behaviors which must always be maintained. Thank you for sharing.

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Bob the Chef May 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm

This is insane. It’s a highly inappropriate thing to ask. Almost as bad as asking to see the inside of someone’s underwear or bank PIN number. I suppose the arrogant and stupid folks in HR have nothing better to do, and no social common sense (and this is HR, mind you…). This is worse than a fad. It’s insanity. It’s profound stupidity. It’s downright creepy.

I think the lukewarm reactions here are telling. You should not be okay with something like this. The company has no business sticking its nose into any personal aspects of your life. American have a terrible sense of dignity with no real sense of what is acceptable behavior, how your manager should relate to you, what the purpose of companies are (and reducing them to soley money making machines is nothing less than miniature state socialism with all its tyranny).

I also hate the term “human resources”. Human are not something you push around and “allocate”. People complain about Obama being a socialist, but in all honesty the US has been a corporate-centered kind of socialist state for a long time.

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