Would You Give a Potential Employer Your Facebook Password?

by Cathy Vandewater | February 24, 2011

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If you're on the hunt for a new job, you've probably taken care to clean up your social media accounts, and made sure that there's nothing objectionable on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed.

So would you be willing to show it on an interview?

That's the question Robert Collins was faced with when his interviewer asked for his Facebook password. The Maryland Department of Corrections claims it's a routine part of the hiring process for its employees, used to identify criminal connections or affiliations. But Collins--and American Civil Liberties Union—are taking issue with it: they filed a complaint against the policy in late January that's had it temporarily suspended as it's brought it under review.

So is the policy illegal?

Facebook (in addition to other social media sites) is tricky ground for interviewers to tread on, since profile access could translate to access to a gamut of information it's illegal to ask about in the hiring process: age, religious/political affiliation, whether or not a candidate has children, military work, marital status, social organization affiliation, and whatever else a person posts, like pictures with illegal substances in them.

But since that information has been made public, to a degree, when posted on Facebook, it's not against the law for a recruiter to look at it.

The issue is further compounded by claims from Maryland Corrections that the request for the password is not mandatory, and Collins could have declined answering it.

But Collins says he didn't get the memo on that. "That was never indicated to me, nor was that the implication, nor was there any mention that it was a voluntary process," he said in a recent statement.

Collins said the question made him feel like a criminal, but he gave up the password—which seems a likely outcome, considering most candidates enter a job interview with an attitude of cooperation and an eagerness to please. Who wants to have to refuse to answer a question and look like they've got something to hide?

So intrusive, yes; but whether or not the question is illegal will depend on the Maryland Department of Public Safety. In the meantime, "Mr. Collins also asks that the login information obtained from him during his recertification and any notations made during viewing of his Facebook materials be destroyed," according to the letter of complaint.

We can't blame him.

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--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search

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