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Don't Ask Too Much; Don't Post Too Much

There are numerous stories in the press about companies who demand to see the Facebook profiles of job applicants or current employees. In some cases, employees have been denied employment, suspended or fired for refusing to provide this access.

The argument offered by employers for demanding this access is that it provides them with more information about prospective or current employees, much like a credit check or background check would provide. And, from a purely factual standpoint, employers who hold to this position are right: examining a Facebook profile will provide more information about someone than not examining that profile.

But are employers wise to demand access to your Facebook profile? In my opinion, absolutely not.

There is an interesting open letter—albeit a fictional one—that offers a resignation from a director of software development. This resignation was in response to his company’s new policy of requiring prospective employees to allow the company to look over their shoulder when accessing Facebook, or preferably to give the employer their Facebook login information.

In one interview after implementing the new policy, a prospective new hire—after providing her Facebook login credentials—promptly declared that she was a lesbian and was prepared to file suit if a heterosexual “less qualified in any way” was hired instead of her. She went on to explain that even if she was hired she might demand to see the employment contracts of all other employees to determine if she was being paid less than her male or heterosexual counterparts.

A few interviews later, another applicant declared—again after providing his Facebook credentials—that his partner was expecting a child and he would be exercising his right of taking six months of leave as allowed by law in Ontario. He went on to ask, “you would never refuse to hire someone because they plan to exercise their legal right to parental leave, would you?”

This director resigned because he was no longer able to hire whom he wished. By knowing too much about prospective employees, his hiring decisions could immediately be suspect even if his motives were completely above reproach.

Here are two lessons I think we can draw:

  1. Employers are better off not asking for prospective or current employees’ Facebook credentials because knowing too much can make their hiring decisions much more complicated and litigious than they have to be.
  2. Don’t overshare or post content that you don’t want to come back to haunt you. Does the entire Facebook world really need to know your drinking habits, your every idle thought, or every opinion you hold? For example, as I write this I’m looking at the public Facebook profile for someone who looks like a teenager and has posted information about a body part that I might consider inappropriate if I were an employer. Another profile uses profanity in the “Activities and Interests” section. Yet another profile is of a 20-something woman whose clothing in her profile picture might not fully cover my MacBook Air.
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