POLL: Should It Be Legal for Potential Employers to Ask for Social Media Passwords?

Illinois just passed a law that makes it illegal for employers to ask job candidates for the passwords to their social media and personal email accounts.

Should Wisconsin follow the example of our neighbors to the south when it comes to social media and applying for a job?

Job applicants in Illinois will no longer feel pressured to give a potential new boss their social media or personal email passwords.

According to a story from The Huffington Post, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday signed a bill into law, making that state only the second in the Union to restrict employers from asking for passwords. And the law is restrictive; even employers - like government agencies - with positions that require a thorough background check are prohibited from asking for passwords.

"We're dealing with 21st-century issues," Quinn is quoted as saying. "... Privacy is a fundamental right. I believe that and I think we need to fight for that."

The law applies to current and future employees, but still allows companies to set policy for workplace use of social media and personal email. Employers are also not restricted from viewing information that is not protected by privacy settings.

Two US Senators have also asked the federal Department of Justice to review whether or not these requests violate privacy laws.

Discrimination seems to be the primary concern, according to the Huffington Post story.

Professor Lori Andrews at the Illinois Institute of Technology's Chicago-Kent College of Law pointed out that online profiles can contain information pertaining a person's sexual orientation, religious beliefs and politicial leanings.

With at least 75 percent of employers saying they use social media to vet job applicants and a third of those admitting to turning down candidates because of social media, there may be cause for concern.

Here in Wisconsin, a Google search didn't bring up any recent bills that may have been introduced into either the Senate or the Assembly, but the law firm of Godfrey & Kahn, L.P. posted an entry to their blog recently that addresses the issue.

Author and attorney John Kalter urges employers to use extreme caution when considering changing or implementing social media policies for current and future employees. Among the concerns he cites, possible discrimination charges, allegations of retaliation and just plain old violation of privacy laws already on the books.

"While there may be employers and jobs for which such seemingly intrusive requests are entirely permissible, employers who are considering implementing such a process should consult with counsel before doing so," writes Kalter.

Patch asked the state Department of Justice to weigh in if the issue has been addressed here. We'll update the story when we hear from them.

James R Hoffa August 02, 2012 at 08:24 PM
@Greg - Very true. That's why Hoffa is so torn on this issue. I can see the logic on both sides here. In answering the Patch poll on this issue, Hoffa chose - 'depends on the job.'
James R Hoffa August 02, 2012 at 08:35 PM
And at least W Bush was upfront and honest about his personal demons. That says a lot about character and integrity, which one would hope our President would have. We didn't learn about Obama's until only after the election and his book was published. That was deceitful, deceptive, and dishonest - no character, no integrity.
Pamela August 02, 2012 at 09:16 PM
It shouldn't be allowed. It's none of their darn business. It would be like an employer back in the 1950s asking for all the names of your pen pals and wanting to know what you discuss. I don't think that would have gone over in a big way, back then and it shouldn't now. Employers and mere "potential" employers can already check your credit rating, criminal records, search for any upcoming court dates and Google all your home information, including when and how you pay your property taxes. And, also with the help of Google, they can peer into your back yard... from space. If there truly was something ominous that someone wanted to hide, who would be stupid enough to plaster it on Facebook anyway? So to me it wouldn't be a smart move on the employer's part, to depend on Facebook as giving a realistic view of a person's life or personality. My Facebook page is private between me and my pen pals. :)
mau August 02, 2012 at 09:24 PM
This wouldn't even be an issue if there weren't idiots out there posting ridiculous activity and comments which should be kept private. But I guess the point is "what have you got to hide"? You have a society who doesn't mind being strip searched to fly on an airplane or patted down to enter a stadium for a ball game. The justification for those who accept it is "it's for security". So couldn't you use that same argument here. It's for the good of society so just go along with it.
Pamela August 02, 2012 at 09:31 PM
You're right! Wow! I didn't think about that. They shouldn't be able to get those answers, in any shape orf form. So peering into someone's facebook should be "technically" illegal already .
Pamela August 02, 2012 at 09:36 PM
@mike p. Thanks for the laugh! :)
Randy1949 August 02, 2012 at 09:43 PM
The whole point of asking for a password or requesting that an interviewee access a social media page is because the material was posted privately as 'friends only'. You're not showing it to the world. I do mind being patted down at the airport, but the consequence of not doing that is that planes might explode and fall out of the sky with me on them. Heaven forbid I might be sold a sandwich by someone who posts party pictures privately on Facebook! There's a bit of a difference.
mau August 02, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Not necessarily. If a friend has their FB privacy set to "world", then any comment you make is no longer restricted to "friends only". If you are "tagged" by a friend who has their page set to "world", then it is no longer "friends only". If you use any apps, and you accept the terms, your page is now accessible by whoever sponsored that app. Also that someone who sold you that sandwich might have spit on it and then posted the "funny" video for the world to see. I'm not in agreement that any employer should have a password to any account you have, whether it be social media or your bank account. But for me, if it came down to having to decide whether to give a social media password to get or keep a job, I would close the social media account. I can live without the account, I can't live without a job.
mau August 02, 2012 at 11:55 PM
People have been fired for making disparaging comments about their employer on Facebook. And they didn't even have a password to the employee's account.
mau August 02, 2012 at 11:59 PM
@JRH, if it came down to that I would shut down my account. I think too many people make these social media groups too big a part of their lives. As far as employers, they have eyes all over the place. Some even scan obituaries when an employee takes time off for a funeral.
Heather Asiyanbi (Editor) August 03, 2012 at 01:22 AM
@mau - the point is that you shouldn't have to make that choice. Employers should not be able to ask for a job applicant's passwords for social media or be asked to log in so a potential employer can watch over their shoulder. It's an invasion of privacy. Period.
$$andSense August 03, 2012 at 02:25 AM
JRH the puritan is "torn" on this. What a sunrise. Hell, make the employee submit to random searches of their vehicles, homes, interviews of their families, surveillance cameras in their homes, signing waivers to exempt employers from any violation of their constitutional rights, etc. etc.What you do at work is one thing. And I remind all that based on the time stamps on so many posts, there are a lot of you "patching" on company time that should face reprimand. Unless you work for the CIA, what does this serve to any purpose other than destroy our constitutional freedoms on what you do on your own time? Yet someone is "torn" on this issue. Just another reminder of the stupidity of youth claiming to be a "conservative". Let's see your weasel words out of this one.
James R Hoffa August 03, 2012 at 07:15 AM
@$$andNonsense - Nice name calling on your part - I see that all that time spent on the Daily Kos has really started to pay dividends for you! Hoffa doesn't need to weasel anything. The issue raised by this article comes down to a matter of perspective. Hoffa believes this issue to be more of a generational disconnect than anything else. Conventional wisdom dictates that if you don't want the world knowing about it, then don't post it on the world wide web. Pretty simple, right? Those adherent to this traditional view and golden rule will never recognize the existence of online privacy rights, no matter how good software encryption and web security becomes. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have those born into an online culture, who couldn't imagine a world without such a standard of an expectancy of privacy in online communications, even though such an expectancy flies in the face of the traditional conventional wisdom. 15 years ago, would you have trusted internet protocols and security enough to conduct your banking online? And yet today, most of us take this for granted, without giving much thought as to whether such information will remain absolutely private, right? As the proliferation and use of the internet continues to expand into the functions of our daily modern lives, so will the expectancy of online privacy rights. Each current position is firmly supported with logical arguments.
James R Hoffa August 03, 2012 at 07:27 AM
The outrageous examples of 'random searches' that you cite, or any of the other examples mentioned in the comments to this poll, are different in that there has ALWAYS been a reasonable expectation of privacy in those venues. However, the same cannot be said of the internet - in fact, the historical reality points to the contrary. Personally, while Hoffa recognizes the logic in the arguments posed by both sides, he disagrees with having to divulge passwords. However, in some jobs, I also don't see it as being wrong to ask to see an applicant's social media profiles. And if your profiles are public, then certainly reviewing such profiles and even basing a decision upon such a review has to be considered fair game. Really, this isn't much different than when the liberals were hollowing about the searchable 'verify the recall' database being available online - despite the FACT that recall petitions are a matter of public record.
Scott August 03, 2012 at 11:44 AM
This is just crazy. Anyone who thinks it's appropriate is a crack pot.
Ron Clone August 03, 2012 at 11:47 AM
This whole social media snooping should not even be an issue. If a person has said or done things that has put him or her in the public arena, like replying to Patch or anything criminal, then it is admissible and is already out there. Private is private. On an unrelated side note, is anybody else concerned about the fact that some people refer to themselves in the third person? My Italian Detroit friends always insisted that Jimmy was at the bottom of the Detroit River. Makes perfect sense - strong current, next stop Niagara Falls. Really. Have a good and private day all! Keep smiling because you are captured on dozens of cameras every day :-)
Debi August 03, 2012 at 12:01 PM
All I would say, it's wrong with employers to check employee's FB, privacy is not private, nothing really is on line, it's what I feel. That is why I don't have a FB account and will never!
Randy1949 August 03, 2012 at 02:50 PM
@ JRH -- Conventional wisdom for my generation was 'never put it on paper'. Period. However, we do put things on paper, and there IS an expectation of privacy with certain things on paper or in the cyber-world. That would include diaries, letters, financial records, etc. A friends-locked blog is the equivalent of private letters. It's different with public entries, because the whole world can see them. Expecting access to private material on the part of potential employers is intrusive. Asking for a password it even more intrusive. It's almost as intrusive as asking for passwords to bank accounts.
Rees Roberts August 03, 2012 at 03:51 PM
A call for action. Call your State legislator and tell them what you think. Ask them to introduce a bill making it unlawful for employers to ask for a password to any social media site or discriminate on the basis of the response of such a request. Only then can we do something constructive about this instead of merely discussing it here.
Randy1949 August 03, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Well, it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, but everyone knows it happens. you just can't prove that's the reason you didn't get a job. The real issue is that employers feel so powerful that they can try to pull this nonsense. There shouldn't have to be a law to make people do the right thing. And why stop at social media? Shouldn't your employer have the password to your bank account so they can spot if you're embezzling? How about PhotoBucket or other photo archives? Your employer might want to delete any picture showing you engaged in a private activity that reflects poorly on the business.
Rees Roberts August 03, 2012 at 07:54 PM
In today's world that is like saying "I'm never going outside. I'm staying indoors and won't go out because it's too dangerous out there." Sure, a case could be said about that and the same for Facebook. But using common sense is always a good approach too. For example, even though I use Facebook, I would never tell anyone on Facebook when I will be going on vacation but rather share a bunch of pictures after I get back. It's the same with real life. Just saying.
Randy1949 August 03, 2012 at 08:16 PM
I don't have a Facebook either, but I do have several other blogs under pseudonyms. I consider what I post on them to be my own business and none of anyone I don't choose to share it with. Of course, it's just good sense never to badmouth your employer or anyone else in a public post. I have seen people doing that, as if they think they won't be caught out.
CowDung August 03, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Debi: I don't think that there's anything at all wrong with an employer looking at an employee's Facebook page. Whatever is posted on the internets should be fair game for an employer to access, just as it is for any other member of the online community. As for asking for passwords so that the 'private' portions of the site can be accessed, I would say might just be going a couple of steps too far.
Randy1949 August 03, 2012 at 08:51 PM
More than a couple steps too far, since a password allows anyone using it to alter the content of the account. All kinds of complications can ensue.
CowDung August 03, 2012 at 09:01 PM
That certainly is a fair point, Randy. The password holder can also change the password and lock the owner out of their own page...
Randy1949 August 03, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Yes indeed they can. You have to wonder what genius in HR thought this concept up and why.
$$andSense August 04, 2012 at 02:59 AM
What is the "Daily Kos"? Something you and Saul came up with? Posting at all times of the normal working day makes one wonder if you have a job or are just scamming off your employer, the taxpayer on unemployment, or mom and dad's basement.
Rees Roberts August 04, 2012 at 03:07 AM
James R Hoffa August 04, 2012 at 03:23 AM
@$$andNonsense - Again with the personal insults - you just don't let up, do you? As Hoffa has stated numerous times before, his job as an independent contractor has him in front of a computer for upwards of 12 hours or more a day. As Hoffa is his own boss, he can do whatever he pleases whenever he pleases. And Patch is Hoffa's break-time relaxation / fun. Hoffa has never scammed off of anyone, and he resents such an accusation! Hoffa only hopes that one day, you would actually learn to appreciate your double-wide, instead of constantly being jealous and envious of Hoffa.
jukap29 August 09, 2012 at 02:23 AM
not necessarily NO reason - trade secrets, insider info, heck even HR news can be leaked by employees. as well as behavior unbecoming of a representative of a prestigious company. I believe strongly in privacy, but also liberty - you are free to post whatever you want, but you must be prepared to pay the consequences for posting drunken, promiscuous pictures and inflammatory statements...


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »