Personal Preferences vs. Employer Requirements

Six weeks until graduation here at UNCW. Ask any senior what’s on their mind and I can almost guarantee it has something to do with employment – resumes, cover letters, interviews, portfolios.

It is our goal to make a good impression on our potential employers in every form – in person, on paper, and increasingly important, online. Searching someone’s name can yield a lot of information – sometimes too much information.

In the COM Department, many students will enter fields where managing an online presence is part of their job responsibility. Here is where we enter the public versus private debate. We have been told that our social network sites should be kept public so that prospective employers, especially those in the marketing field, can see what we post about, how often we post, and if we’re keeping up with the latest trends. But what if companies aren’t making the public or private view a personal preference? What if they are demanding access to your accounts? Other than directly asking for your log in information, employers are also asking applicants to friend a human resources manager, or log in to a company computer during an interview.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney, Catherine Crump said: “It’s an invasion of privacy for private employers to insist on looking at people’s private Facebook pages as a condition of employment or consideration in an application process.  People are entitled to their private lives. You’d be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It’s equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person’s private social media account.”

Facebook’s privacy officer, Erin Egan, also weighed in on the issue: “In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information. This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends. It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to anticipated legal liability.”

Much of what these employers are doing could be illegal. When interviewing, every human resource staff member knows that some topics are strictly off limits. Asking one of these off limits questions could put your company at serious risk for being sued for discrimination. Yet by using to social media investigation or review, this kind of off limits information can be collected about a potential employee even before their interview.

Here are some examples of questions employers cannot ask:

–   Are you married?
–   How old are you?
–   Do you have children? If so how many and how old are they?
–   What church do you attend?
–   Do you belong to any social or political groups?
–   Do you suffer from an illness or disability?
–   Are you taking any prescribed drugs?

And for women specifically:

–  Do you plan to get married?
–  Do you intend to start a family?
–  Are you likely to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC describe the issue as “Tempting Fruit from a Poisonous Tree”. They give the following example:
Applicant – Alex Jackson – catches your eye. Excellent resume, degree from a New York Ivy League school, published in trade magazine, active in community, and has excellent references. You decide to pull their Facebook page to get a better feel for the applicant. You find Alex is a 42 year old female, active in the Catholic Church, recently married, and has one year old son. A recent posts says “Please pray for my mother as she recovers from her most recent bout with cancer.”

Just like Alex’s, your profile probably reveals a lot of the same information. In just a matter of a few clicks, race, age, religion, gender, and medical history have all been revealed – and are all illegal questions for an employer to ask. In a worst case scenario, an employer could even get sued under a variety of Acts if one felt such factors contributed to swaying a hiring decision.

Social media continues to blur the lines of public and private. Be prepared for your interview – know what questions are likely to be asked, but also know what questions you don’t have to answer. How do you feel about employers requiring to see your accounts? Acceptable or infringing? Where should the line be drawn? Is there a compromise that can be made?

– Savannah Valade

Make sure to keep up with the blog this week as the team explores more employment trends in preparation for COM Studies Day this Friday. Students and alumni are encouraged to attend the informational panels, fashion, and networking events that will take place throughout the day. This is a great opportunity to learn, ask questions, and get advice . For those who cannot attend the events, follow the IMC Hawks here on Twitter as we will be live tweeting, as well as live blogging, throughout the day’s events.

 

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