Here’s the memo on Facebook – again (Editor’s notes)

Employers still have social media lessons to learn
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/14/2011

In 2009, a city in Montana drew a line in the sand employers knew, unequivocally, they should never cross. Apparently, not everyone got the memo.

To refresh your memory: Two years ago, the City of Bozeman made headlines when it asked candidates to hand over usernames and passwords to social media websites such as Facebook as part of the screening process. Common sense prevailed and the city wisely abandoned that practice.

Last month, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) decided to step into the limelight. It asked Robert Collins, a corrections officer returning from a leave of absence following his mother’s death, to hand over his Facebook username and password before reinstating him.

“My personal communications, my personal posts, my personal pictures, looking at my personally identifiable information, where my religious beliefs, my political beliefs, my sexuality — all of these things are possibly disclosed on this page,” said Collins in a video produced by the American Civil Liberties Union.

DPSCS pointed out the request was voluntary and Facebook content had not been taken into account when evaluating job applicants. But it decided to suspend the practice of asking for social media information for 45 days in light of the fact it’s a “newly emerging area in the law.”

It’s one thing to do a Google search on a candidate. It’s quite another to ask her, even voluntarily, to hand over personal IDs and passwords. And, frankly, it’s a road employers shouldn’t want to go down. If the person didn’t get the job, for whatever reason, the employer could be exposed to a human rights complaint. If a candidate’s private Facebook account revealed she was gay, the employer might have some explaining to do in front of a tribunal as to whether or not sexuality played a role in the hiring decision.

Employers have long lamented the fact many workers don’t know the boundaries of social media and what’s inappropriate in the workplace. Employers, apparently, still have a thing or two to learn as well.

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