Can your boss ask for access to your social media accounts? #SoMe

There have been a few instances in the news recently where employers are asking for access to an employee’s social media account, specifically the password for a Facebook account.

The conversation started recently when the Baltimore Sun, among others, reported that a “corrections officer [prison warden] from Baltimore says he was required to provide his Facebook password when he reapplied for his former job and had to watch as his personal page and its postings were perused by an investigator.”

Not exactly the usual request any one of us would think of having made of us when we’re reapplying for our post but, as Rhonda Callow questions in her blog post Should your employer be able to ask for your Facebook password?;

“The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services claimed that the practice was simply intended to help identify applicants with criminal affiliations or connections.”

Indeed, many would agree this is an honest request made with honest intentions … especially in light of the story I found last year, when preparing for my safety in Social Media, of the prison warden who was fired because he was found to have ‘inappropriate” friendships on Facebook, “associating with serving and former prisoners, outside the course of his employment and without authority”.

Rhonda comments on the latest story by saying that the problem is that …

“… in most countries, Canada included, legislation has failed to keep pace with technology. We have rules that prevent potential employers from asking questions that would enable them to discriminate on grounds of race, religion, etc., etc., but there is absolutely nothing to prevent them from asking to peek at our social media accounts. And, in my opinion, it’s very clearly something that employers should not be able to do. Sure, you could refuse to comply with the request. The risk, however, is that it could result in you being perceived as uncooperative or – worse – as having something to hide.”

While we may not have anything to hide, why should we feel bad or even guilty about refusing this request? There are many commentaries being made on the subject, on blogs and in the national/international media, here are a few of the ‘choice’ quotes more directed at the morality/legality of the request, and whether we should hand over the ‘key’ to our accounts:

“Should employers Google the names of prospective employees and perhaps check out their public Facebook and Twitter profiles? For many white collar jobs, I think that’s reasonable. But accessing private information seems out of bounds.”
Want A Job: Give Us Your Facebook Password – Outside the Beltaway

“No matter what job someone is applying for, you don’t need the potential or actual employee’s social network log in details in order to do background checks that would satisfy such investigation. I can see no right for any organization to require login access to someone’s Facebook account a prerequisite for employment.”
Should your employer have access to your Facebook account? – Neville Hobson

Back in 2009, this question was already raising its ugly head, as the CNN SciTechBlog post Want a job? Hand over your Facebook password reveals:

“That’s what’s happened to applicants for jobs with the city of Bozeman, Montana, who were surprised to discover they needed more than a work history and references. Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo,, MySpace, etc.,” reads a background-check waiver form that applicants had to sign. (There’s no mention of Twitter.) The form then contains three lines where applicants are to list their logins and passwords.”

In the above example, the public backlash “led city officials to reconsider. After a closed-door meeting Friday, Bozeman officials suspended the practice, according to several Montana media outlets – who first announced the news on Twitter.”

So, another question, and this one is for all you lawyers out there … what do you do if your employer asks for these details? Are you duty-bound to hand them over, or can you politely say “I would be happy to assist you but I need to clarify/quantify/check the legality of  the request before I let you have them?” Anyone, please?

While we’re on the subject … what about parents who want to look after their children online? is it ‘right’ for them to snoop or even steal passwords in order to monitor their Facebook or other social network websites? According to the New Jersey Police Chief (as reported on Gizmodo website) we should be using ‘keystroke-recording software on their computers so you can figure out their Facebook password. Then you can presumably snoop and poke around as much as you want. He claims that the software is very easy to install and that “your children don’t know it’s there””.’

I think that this will come back and bite a few parents in the end, right about when the teenager starts to rebel against anything they can find .. and you’ve just given them a really really good excuse for them to not trust you.

Do you have any stories about being asked for your login details by an employer or potential employer? If so, please reply below (anonymously if you like?).

Photo by Adem AY on Unsplash