Sixty-six percent of adults who regularly access the Internet use social media sites, according to Pew Research Center data. This includes 86 percent of those who are 18 to 29, 72 percent of those who are 30 to 49, and 50 percent of those who are 50 to 64. The majority use Facebook, which recently made news for achieving 1 billion active users a month.
With so many job applicants and employees using social media websites, it’s no surprise that many employers review the information candidates have posted online before making hiring decisions. While in the past, employers had to evaluate a potential employee’s suitability purely through their resume and references, today they regularly perform Internet searches to learn significantly more about their job seekers.
Privacy settings can prevent casual searchers from seeing most of one’s social media profiles – and that’s a good thing, as one survey found adults under the influence of alcohol in 76 percent of tagged Facebook photos. But employers are increasingly demanding the usernames and passwords of job applicants – enabling their perusal of everything, hidden or not. This practice, seen by many as a significant invasion of privacy, does not sit well with most job seekers.
As a result, California, Maryland and Illinois have recently enacted legislation that prohibits employers from requesting or requiring the disclosure of personal social media usernames and passwords. California and Delaware also enacted legislation that prohibits higher education institutions from the same. In total, 14 states introduced legislation this year that will prevent employers from requesting the social network usernames and passwords of job applicants, current employees and students.
Most recently, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1349 on September 27, prohibiting California employers from requiring the disclosure of social media information. Specifically, employers may not require applicants to disclose social media usernames and passwords, access their social media accounts in the presence of the employer, or disclose any information posted or stored within social media. The new law defines social media as videos, photographs, blogs, instant messages, text messages, email, websites and web-based profiles. Senate Bill 1349 will take effect on January 1, 2013.
If a job candidate’s social media presence is freely accessible (i.e. no privacy settings utilized), employers should still exercise caution before accessing the information available. Much of it is ‘protected information’ that employers may not lawfully consider when making hiring decisions. This includes details regarding candidate’s age, race, religion, sexual orientation and medical condition.
Accessing such information leaves employers more vulnerable to discrimination claims than they would be if they relied solely on information gained through traditional channels including resumes, job applications, references and background checks.