Do You Require Facebook Passwords for Those Applicants You Interview? / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

As media reports have shown us lately, more employers are asking job interview candidates to provide them with Facebook, Twitter and...

As media reports have shown us lately, more employers are asking job interview candidates to provide them with Facebook, Twitter and other social media log-in information in order to view private accounts during the background check process.

So, how much damage can a personal Facebook or Twitter account do to someone's chances of getting a job? To those that think not much, think again.

As more job candidates are discovering, a questionable tweet or sharing a picture of one in a drunken predicament can have very damaging effects on one's ability to get a job and/or even get in an interview for that matter.

But before your small business decides to spend time on the personal social media accounts of those you are considering interviewing, think about the possible legal ramifications of such actions.

While this is still a very gray area in terms of legalities, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups are letting both the potential employee and the employer that they are watching this recent trend.

Did Maryland Officials Go Too Far?

Much attention was directed recently at the Maryland Department of Corrections, where officials asked applicants and even a number of those already employed there to willingly provide their Facebook passwords. According to prison officials, they wanted to view the private accounts to be sure none of the potential guards and some of those already working there did not have any gang ties.

Since then, Maryland state legislators unveiled a bill that would ban businesses from requiring applicants to provide passwords to their private Facebook accounts.  Meantime, legislators in Illinois, California, Minnesota and New Jersey have followed the lead, though none of the bills are law to this point.

Not to be left out of the news, Facebook has publicly stated that it will take employers to court when they seek such information, stating it is a violation of the social media giant's policies. In a blog post on Facebook, Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan wrote "If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password."

Careful When Rejecting Candidates

Legal rumblings can become an even bigger issue should an employer be perceived as rejecting an applicant because they find something on the individual through a share or tweet.

Per example, if a business owner sees that a potential employee has certain religious convictions they are discussing on Facebook, the employer cannot turn them down due to their religious beliefs. Assuming the applicant did not discuss religion during the interview; the employer has to come up with a legitimate reason (qualifications, personality, etc.) as to why they would not hire that person, not because of some posts they saw on Facebook or another site.

With all that being said, employers must walk a tightrope here due to the fact that a negligent hire (for example, applicant made some rumblings about a past employer that could be considered threatening) could end up in a lawsuit should they hire that person, then the employee does or says something bad while under their employment. An employee could bring a liability suit against the company, claiming the employer should have known about the applicant's questionable behavior due to some social media posts they made prior to being hired.

As an employer, it is advisable to tread carefully when asking for personal information on potential hires.

The first approach would be to look for and/or ask for a candidate's LinkedIn information, given many applicants will be more than willing to show off their business profiles.

If an applicant is reluctant to give up a Facebook or Twitter log-in, don't automatically discount this person during the interview process. Not every applicant that is reluctant to provide such information is a lock to be a bad hire.

With all that goes into trying to find the right people to work for you, weigh the total package, not just the social media one.

Remember, the last thing you want to do as an employer is come off as being anti-social.

If that's the case, that word could spread quickly in today's electronic information age, doing more damage than attempting to discount someone over a questionable social media post.

So, has your company ever asked a job applicant for a social media site password? If so, what was their response?

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