It is no longer news that many Florida employers browse the social networking profiles of job applicants. Whether this is ethical or not, it is quite a widespread practice. However, there have been several situations reported lately in which employers have stepped far past the ethical questions of this practice and into a legal dilemma.
Some companies are actually asking for the private login information of employees and job candidates. This has certainly raised many red flags as far as federal and state privacy law and employment law, spurring legislation in several other states to ban the practice.
Many outspoken critics of this practice have said that having an employer access your Facebook or other social media accounts--by actually logging in as you--is no less invasive than if they were to go through your mailbox or ask for your house keys to peer around at your personal belongings.
The Department of Justice has said that it is a federal crime to enter Facebook or a similar website in violation of its terms of service; however it may not be a violation if a job applicant or employee voluntarily gives up their password. Nonetheless, privacy advocates say that people--especially job applicants who are very much in need of employment--are unfairly coerced into handing over the private information.
For now, in Florida this remains very much a gray area while states including Illinois and Maryland could very well outlaw this type of employment screening. It is often wise to take precautions when publishing any personal information onto social media websites and to utilize privacy controls. Much of the information published on these sites is actually in the public domain and it is prudent to be highly intentional with your online image.
Because the laws governing social media's role in employment are very complicated, those experiencing a social media-related employment issue are wise to seek legal guidance.
Source: The Associated Press, "Employers ask job applicants for their Facebook passwords," Manuel Valdes, March 21, 2012