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June, 2012

Avoiding Social Media Quicksand for Job Seekers, Employees and HR Departments

In this Issue:

Avoiding Social Media Quicksand

Is Social Media PrivateIf you screen job applicants or manage employees, chances are you have looked at current or potential employees’ social media accounts. If you have applied for a job recently, chances are someone has searched for your online presence. According to a 2008 Careerbuilder survey External link opens in a new window, 20% of employers admitted to routinely searching for the social media accounts of potential or current employees. This percentage has dramatically increased since 2008. In a 2011 survey conducted by Reppler External link opens in a new window, 91% of surveyed employers reported using social media searches to screen applicants. 69% reported rejecting candidates based on this screening.
It is not surprising that employers seek out information from social networking pages. Social media accounts give insight into a person's character in a way that application forms cannot. Searching for a job-seeker or employee's publicly available accounts is legal and widely accepted. In light of this practice, many social media users realize the importance of maintaining a professional public image online. Many have updated their privacy and security settings - making their accounts private, restricted, or unsearchable. They have set certain posts and materials to a “friends only” setting.

Cleaning up one's public image is never a bad idea, but what happens when an employer is curious about the information that lies behind that wall of privacy? Recent AP headlines External link opens in a new window detailed cases of job-seekers being asked to share their private social media account usernames and passwords. In these instances, the employers wanted more than the assurance of a clean public image; they wanted full access to private messages, photographs, friends-only status updates and more. Some of the employers asking for such access were based in Illinois. There have also been reports External link opens in a new window of colleges, athletic teams and government agencies demanding access to online accounts.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) has filed lawsuits External link opens in a new window in cases of cyber-snooping and forced password “sharing.” ALCU maintains this is a violation of “Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.” Two Representatives recently introduced the Social Networking Online Protection Act that would provide Federal intervention External link opens in a new window. Illinois and other States have proposed legislation to strictly prohibit any employer from asking for the username and password to online accounts, or from asking employees and job-seekers to log onto their social media accounts for “inspection.” State Representative La Shawn Ford sponsored House Bill 3782 which passed in the Illinois House on March 29. The Illinois Senate also passed the Bill External link opens in a new window on May 22. It has been sent to the Governor for approval. This law would forbid employers from demanding access to private social media accounts. It would also prohibit retaliation or punishment of employees for refusing to allow such a search.

In the meantime, job-seekers and employees should consider the following:
  • Continue to be aware of your online presence. Take a look at your social media pages and think critically about what information an employer might be able to gather about you. Consider setting your pages to private External link opens in a new window.
  • Employees and job-seekers should be mindful of who is on their “friends” list. Setting controversial or private information to “friends only” will only protect your employment interests. Be cautious of giving access to coworkers.
  • Job-seekers and employees who work in the government or public sphere may be subjected to more scrutiny. This may include current or potential law enforcement officers, emergency dispatchers, teachers, etc. Consider the recent case External link opens in a new window involving a teacher's aide who was suspended for refusing to give access to her Facebook account.
  • Sharing your social media passwords and other online passwords can jeopardize your online identity security. Facebook actually expressly prohibits sharing your password with any outside party.
  • Illinois workNet® can help you manage your professional networking Link opens in a new window, including your social media image.

Employers should consider the following:

  • It may be tempting to look at social media accounts to seek the “perfect” applicant. However, it is similar to illegally asking about personal information in an interview. If it's illegal to ask External link opens in a new window about it in an interview, it's probably not wise to investigate it online.
  • If a job-seeker knows you have searched his or her social media account, you may open your business to a discrimination lawsuit External link opens in a new window. Even if your findings do not affect your hiring decision, a candidate may develop that perception. It may be difficult and costly for you to prove otherwise. Then again, if you discover evidence of illegal or unethical activity during your search and you hire that candidate anyway, you may be liable later for negligent hire.
  • It is in violation of the terms of service External link opens in a new window of most social media networks for a user to share his or her username and password. Asking a current or potential employee to provide this information is a request to violate the site's terms of service. It may also be against the terms of service for you to access the accounts of other users. Doing so may result in the suspension of your account(s) or even legal action External link opens in a new window.
  • Review your business's formal protocol for disciplinary action and employee termination. Do not draft written policy that could be perceived as a violation of employees' privacy. Additionally, be aware that written policy regarding disciplinary action and termination may be considered part of an implied contract. Therefore, if you terminate an employee due to his or her social media activity, you may be liable for wrongful termination.
  • Illinois workNet® provides five webinars Link opens in a new window that will guide you in using social media in ways beneficial to your business.

Additional Resources:

Workplace Skills: What Employers Want

Work Ethics VideoOur Workplace Skills Wheel is for job-seekers, students, and anyone in between who wants or needs to improve their workplace skills. We have 11 different skill areas where you can read real-life scenarios, decide what you would do in the situation, read example responses, find resources to help you improve that skill, watch employer videos, and find next steps!

You can view ALL our Workplace Skills Videos External link opens in a new window on our YouTube channel!

Click on a skill below to get started:
  1. Academic Skills Link opens in a new window
  2. Communications Link opens in a new window
  3. Reasoning, Problem Solving, and Decision Making Link opens in a new window
  4. Understanding the Big Picture Link opens in a new window
  5. Positive Attitude Link opens in a new window
  6. Work Ethic Link opens in a new window
  7. Career Development Link opens in a new window
  8. Leadership and Teamwork Link opens in a new window
  9. Attendance and Self-Presentation Link opens in a new window
  10. Independence and Initiative Link opens in a new window
  11. Computer Literacy Link opens in a new window

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