The fallout from earlier reports of employers asking applicants for their Facebook passwords continues. Obviously a nerve was struck.
Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Charles E. Schumer formally asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to launch an investigation into whether this practice violates federal laws.
From the press release:
"Blumenthal and Schumer argued that this disturbing practice represents a grave intrusion into personal privacy that could set a dangerous precedent for personal privacy and online privacy, make it more difficult for Americans to get jobs, and expose employers to discrimination claims"
"'With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants’ private, password-protected information.'”
"'In an age where more and more of our personal information – and our private social interactions – are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers. This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence.'"
"In their letter to the Justice Department, Blumenthal and Schumer pointed out that two courts have found that when supervisors request employee login credentials, and access otherwise private information with those credentials, that those supervisors may be subject to civil liability. Although those two cases involved current employees, the courts’ reasoning does not clearly distinguish between employees and applicants."
"Blumenthal and Schumer also announced that they are currently drafting legislation that would seek to fill any gaps in federal law that allow employers to require personal login information from prospective employees to be considered for a job."
In related news, on today's Talk of the Nation show, they discussed this issue with a reporter from Wired magazine and an HR consultant.
There are a lot of issues here, ranging from online privacy to public reputation to discrimination, but one that I think deserves more attention is how employers can legitimately get the type of information they're seeking. Again, we're not talking about a background check for, say, a peace officer position, we're talking about your run-of-the-mill clerical job. Basically employers are hungry for any information like displays of poor judgment, a negative attitude about their employer, duplicity in their application, etc.
How might an employer get this type of information without resorting to asking for applicant passwords? It's pretty simple actually, we go back to the basics such as:
1) Reference checks; highly under-used and maligned, with many organizations unaware of technological advances made in this area that make it more likely they'll get the information they need.
2) Work sample/performance tests that simulate actual job tasks. These can be very effective in determining how an applicant will respond in an actual situation (i.e., where things like judgment are important).
3) Situational judgment tests: a lower fidelity version of a performance test that nonetheless can be very effective at assessing candidate's knowledge of, and propensity to engage in, appropriate behavior in various situations.
4) Personality inventories: made to measure things like conscientiousness, openness to experience, and extraversion, which may all be good or bad things depending on the needs of the position.
Bottom line: there are other--better--forms of assessment out there that have been around for a long time and when done well, do the trick. No need to ask for someone's online diary.
As a reminder, for those of you that are IPAC members, I gave a webinar about this topic about a year and a half ago where I gave an overview of the technology as well as a summary of many of the major challenges inherent in this practice. The recording is available in the Members Only area.