Senator wants to slam Facebook door on employers
Published 3:45 pm, Saturday, March 24, 2012
The Facebook flap continued into Friday, with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., pledging to slam the social network door shut on snooping employers.
A chorus of condemnation has gone up in the wake of a series of stories about a Maryland corrections officer who was asked to provide access to his Facebook page after returning to work from an injury and another man who claims to have been asked by a potential employer for the password to his account during an interview.
Blumenthal on Friday morning appeared on WCBS 880 radio to say he would be pursuing legislation banning such activity, as the practice is spreading across the country.
His office said the senator had received complaints from constituents in Connecticut prior to media stories this week on the issue. However, when asked what companies were doing this, his office did not name them.
David Lewis, chief executive officer and president of Stamford-based human resources consultants Operations Inc., said many companies look at Facebook profiles, but what has been reported is atypical.
"This was the first time I've ever heard of someone with the gall to ask for a password," Lewis said.
Usually, a company will just look at the public information available. He said companies should not be "friending" the person either.
Using Facebook information for hiring and firing decisions is a bad idea, he said, and he counsels clients to be careful on this front.
Lewis said this issue is similar to many other privacy issues involved in the hiring process and reasons why prospective employees end up not getting a job.
"We don't tell people in the interview cycle that we're not hiring you because you are too heavy, too old, too experienced," he said.
Instead, employers will say another candidate had the skill set the company was seeking.
Employers who look at Facebook usually don't say they are looking at an applicant's page. "The companies that are getting in trouble are the ones who are using them and telling," he said.
It's the biggest issue in human resources in 50 years, he said, and there are already court cases about the use of it in the employment process.
Ultimately, as Blumenthal wades into this fight, he might find himself confronting the same issues U.S. Rep. Steven Cohen, D-Tenn., has encountered trying to ban the use of credit reports in the hiring process.
Right now, employers can ask potential employees for permission to review credit history.
Cohen filed a bill in 2009 to prevent even asking, but it was defeated mainly over concerns from federal agencies that said it is necessary to access credit reports for national security. The financial industry also objected.
Cohen is once again offering his bill, this time exempting the agencies and financial institutions. It is in committee.
Human resources and career experts say employees must also be careful to protect information on social networking sites.
Employees aren't doing themselves any favors either when they "friend" supervisors or office colleagues who can then report on their activities and hinder careers.
Lewis said companies are mostly looking for information on character when they look at social media sites, but he said often it's an overzealous hiring manager who is doing it and not necessarily a company policy.
But there are industries and jobs where expectation of Web privacy is being challenged, most notably in government and the financial sector. Many companies involved in investment banking monitor employee Twitter accounts to make sure they don't provide inappropriate information on clients or stocks.
And many of the cases in which Facebook or other social media account information was requested came from law enforcement.
Defense contractor Sikorsky Aircraft, based in Stratford, said it doesn't routinely ask for access to this information, but if something arises from the extensive background search that is conducted, access might be requested.
"The trend of doing this is increasing," she said. "Often, when one employer adopts one practice, others adopt it."
She said while people might argue that writing down intimate thoughts and revealing private information on free websites that many people can see and access removes the expectation for privacy, that view ignores today's culture. She said social media is a fact and privacy in that world is expected and should be protected.
Facebook agreed, issuing a statement Friday against the practice of seeking account names and passwords by employers.