Should Employers Ask Candidates for Facebook Passwords in a Background Check?
May 6, 2013
The U.S. Congress recently passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) which helps individuals protect their right to privacy and prohibits an employer from impersonating an employee online when other employees are interacting across social media platforms. Removed from this bill at the last minute was a provision that would have banned employers from asking job candidates and employees for their social media passwords. Given the public sentiment on this issue, not to mention the media outcry, this omission is a big surprise to me. Kudos to Congress for not caving to public pressure on this one.
Let’s get this out of the way. I think that asking candidates or employees for their social media passwords for employment background screening purposes (or any other reason), is a bad idea for nearly all employers and infringes on a person’s right to privacy. I think it’s a bad business practice and would dissuade people from wanting to work for a company that engaged in this practice.
So why am I applauding our politicians? Because at the end of the day, finding an employer that actually requires this information is like finding a needle in a haystack. I won’t say it’s never done, because we’ve seen scant examples that prove otherwise, but it is the rare exception, not the rule. And by and large, when the practice comes to public light, the employer is generally tarred and feathered into submission. Just look at our 2013 Employment Background Check Trends Survey report where only 7% of all respondents said they conduct social media background checks. Of those that do not utilize this employment background screening tool, 69% said that they were concerned about privacy laws and other legal risks and 32% said it just wasn’t relevant.
My guess is that our legislators did their homework and found this to be true and realized that the effort just wasn’t worth fighting for.
Now, having said that, I wouldn’t rule out that there aren’t certain occupations or positions where this practice makes sense. For instance, this was (and probably still is) a requisite to qualify for employment with the Obama administration. It’s hard to argue with the importance in this case. In truth, I’m struggling to find any positions in the private sector where this might make sense, but I’d love to solicit your feedback. Maybe for the C-suite of public companies?
So where do we draw the line? I don’t know and clearly, neither did Congress. That’s why I support their non-action on this issue. Let the private sector figure it out.
Just my $.02