Posts Tagged ‘Social networking service’

The Cost of Curiosity

In a growing trend, employers are asking job applicants and employees to provide login information to their Facebook pages and other social networking accounts. Many are questioning the propriety of asking for login information, particularly because an applicant or employee may believe refusing will cost them a job. However, even reviewing social media profiles, or utilizing a third-party application, to obtain information about applicants and employees may expose employers to legal liability.

Facebook has already confirmed that password sharing is prohibited under its Terms of Service. Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” Section 4(8) explicitly prohibits password sharing:   “You will not share your password, (or in case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.” While violating the letter or spirit of the Facebook Rights and Responsibilities can lead to deletion of the user’s Facebook account, there are few real legal consequences for such violations. The Department of Justice regards entering a social networking site in violation of the terms of service to be a federal crime, but admitted that they would not prosecute offenders.

There are real legal dangers in asking an applicant or employee for login information, or even reviewing their social media accounts.  Many people post information on social media sites that may show a protected status (age, sex, religion, disability, genetic information, race, national origin and pregnancy), lawful off-duty conduct (alcohol or smoking), or criminal history.  Such information may be, albeit unintentionally, factored into hiring or workplace decisions. It could be particularly damaging if an employer requested access to social media accounts, and then makes a decision that detrimentally affects the applicant or employee. It simply creates more fodder for a potential lawsuit.

Employers that insist on reviewing applicant or employee social media profiles should take steps to maintain objectivity. Assigning a non-decision-maker to review the social media profiles, before passing on relevant information onto the hiring personnel, can help to prevent those making the hiring decision from relying on improper information. Employers may also want to limit their social media search to LinkedIn, because it is a professional site, which is much less likely to display improper information.

In the end, employers are generally better off not trying to obtain information about applicants and employees via Facebook and other social networks. The possibility that important information may be unearthed is greatly outweighed by the potential legal pitfalls and lawsuits a search may create.

This article is authored by attorney Casey L. Sipe and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice.  Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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