On Thursday May 24, 2012, State Senator Charleta Tavares of Columbus introduced a bill that would prohibit employers from asking applicants or employees for their social media password. The bill follows a trend started in Maryland and followed by at least 11 other states (plus Congress) that would prohibit this employer practice.
Is this legislation necessary? Well, I was asked this question on 10TV in Columbus last Thursday night and my answer was an emphatic "No!" Though this type of legislation seems to be "trending" nationwide, the examples of employers that actually require their applicants or employees to turn over their passwords are actually few and far between. Indeed, the two employers that were outed by the press in recent years for this requirement — the City of Bozeman, Montana, and the Maryland Department of Corrections (both public employers, incidentally) — were deluged by so much negative press and public outcry that they stopped the practice.
This is not to say that employers don’t have valid reasons for reviewing applicant and employee social media activity. They most certainly do. But in most industries, they don’t have any real need or obligation to look through anything other than what the individual makes public through their chosen privacy settings. In those limited instances where an employer may have a legitimate need to inquire further — think law enforcement, financial sector and daycare settings, for instance — they should be able to ask applicants for access to their Facebook pages. It’s up to the applicant to decide whether to provide it.
In addition to the court of public opinion, there are other reasons for employers not to ask for social media passwords. Identifying, recruiting and retaining qualified employees is difficult enough for employers without creating a "Big Brother" environment that inevitably will turn off applicants and employees who don’t want to work in that kind of environment for fear that petty indiscretions on their Facebook pages will hamper their employment opportunities.
Admittedly, in this era of high unemployment, some people may be reluctant to say no to an employer request for a Facebook password, but the meager anecdotal instances to date of employers actually requiring this does not merit a legislative fix.