April 4, 2012
Alright, we’ve all seen the headlines.
Employers are demanding to see your Social Media profiles, and even – in some cases – demanding usernames and passwords to sites.
Before you panic, keep a few things in mind:
– Asking for your profile information before you are hired (NOT username/password) is something you should not fight against. There are two reasons for this. First, that information will only let them see what’s already available to the public at large, and so it’s stuff they could find on their own anyway. Giving them your screen names will at least let you know they’re looking. Secondly, knowing that they’re looking can come in handy, as you can ensure that there’s nothing you don’t want them to see before you hand over the info.
– Asking for private information before you are hired is NOT OK. Asking you for your login information is a severe violation of privacy, and should not be permissible for any employer. They cannot ask for your bank account information, they cannot – in most states – ask if you’ve been arrested (though, interestingly enough, they CAN ask if you’ve been convicted of a crime) – why should they be permitted to ask for private online information access?
– Asking for private information after you are hired is another story. If you signed an employment contract that gives them the right to ask, then you have to give up that info or risk termination. This is why you need to read your pre-employment and post-employment documents very carefully.
What I’m saying here is that many employees are raising the same level of alarm to the question “What is your FaceBook name?” as they are to the question “What is your FaceBook username and password?” These questions are not the same, and should not be handled the same.
The first question is perfectly reasonable. They want to see what you let any other person in the world see already, they’re just lazy and don’t want to Google search for your profile. The second question is a privacy violation.
We – as a community – need to differentiate between the two and only scream about the true violations, otherwise we risk having the general employer community accuse us of crying wolf over the issue.
That being said, what should you do if asked either type of question?
If they just want to know your online name, give it to them. Prior to beginning the interview process you should have made attempts to sanitize your profiles anyway.
If the interviewer demands your login information, politely refuse. Also inform them that you will note that the question was asked, and take your refusal into account if you are denied employment. In short, put them on notice that you’re still happy to work for them, but that you will not be pushed around.
Read ALL documents carefully to ensure you’re not giving away rights to your personal accounts. This is critical, as you may need to turn down a job offer if the company demands that all employees give up their logins. You may be able to negotiate a rider to your contract that explicitly states they don’t have rights to your Social Media accounts, but usually it’s either “do this” or “don’t work for us.”
If your employment paperwork does not explicitly state that you are required to give that information as a condition of employment, and you are still asked for it; refuse. Also note that you are not required to do so by your contract, and be very clear that you feel that logins are Personal Information and not subject to company disclosure. Let them know that they are very much welcome to view your public information, however; so that it doesn’t appear like you’re trying to hide anything.
In short, treat your FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest and any other Social Media site login info the same as your bank account info, your medical info, etc. Unless you specifically agree – in writing – to give up that information as part of your employment, don’t give it up.
What if you get fired over this? I’m not a lawyer and you shouldn’t take any legal advice from me, so I won’t give you any. If you are terminated for not giving an employer your login information, seek legal help immediately. If you are denied a job for not giving your login information during an interview, seek legal help immediately. Many free advocacy groups exist, so hunt around and get help!
Secondly, if the employer in question is going to be that strict about your personal life, do you really want to work for them? If you have no choice (it is still a bad job market, after all) then you have to make a very tough decision, but if not, walk away. The employer may realize their mistake and ask you back, sans the request for your passwords.
To sum up: If the company only wants to see public information, or if you willingly agree to give them the logins in your contract, then give it to them. If they fire you unduly, or refuse to hire you because you won’t give them personal info, get legal help. But don’t raise the alarm over public data or data you agreed to give up, save that for the real bullying and privacy violations.