Facebook, The ACLU and Employers

Do employers have the right to ask you for your social media log-ins prior to hiring you? According to the ACLU, no they don’t.  I agree with the ACLU. I understand the argument – employers have the right to know about the people they are hiring – but I don’t believe that gives employers the right to make sharing your most personal information a condition of employment. Just because a repository of information exists, doesn’t make it free game. If an employer demanded the right to read a journal, see the pictures on your digital camera or have a copy of your cable bill prior to hiring, many would bristle at the implications. Asking you to share private social media information is ultimately the same thing.

Information shared publicly is a different story.  If an employer wants to (and probably should) conduct a cursory search of a person’s public social media profiles prior to hiring, and then use that information in the decision making process, that makes sense.  After all, if a person is broadcasting in that way, it had better be something they are prepared to stand behind and defend.  But public and private are two completely different things when it comes to whether or not someone is employable. Information not shared with the wide-world is not fair game.

Ultimately, businesses are concerned about reputation.  Since information can spread quickly on the Internet, a loose-cannon on social media could cause headaches. For this reason, I recommend business have social media policies in place that provide guidelines for employees interacting  and talking about their company on social media.  I am not a proponent of companies limiting their employees’ actions, a situation with deep and troubling implications. Instead, I believe that employers do have the right to ask employees not interact with the brand profiles, not to act as if speak for the company, and even, in extreme cases not to talk about the company publicly on social media at all. Ultimately, the social media rule of thumb for businesses should be, if it would get you fired in the real world, it will get you fired on online.

In the end, a user’s current public social media profiles should be an excellent gauge of how employable they are. If what is available to everyone seems questionable, then they likely aren’t worth the risk.  But if that public persona is acceptable, then what is said in private doesn’t and cannot matter.

What’s your take on this issue?