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Can Facebook Passwords Be Requested on Employment Applications?

Name. Address. Work History. References. Facebook password. The first four are commonly understood to be necessary information when applying for a new job, but the fifth – a Facebook password – is working its way onto the list of information requested by future employers before a job offer is made.

Requesting a Facebook password may be taking pre-employment screening one step too far, invading privacy rights of those who’ve otherwise chosen to keep their Facebook pages available only to a limited audience. One problem with an employer logging into a candidate’s Facebook account is that many pieces of information that are not allowed to be part of the hiring process because of the potential for employment discrimination may become readily available to the employer.

Gender, ethnic background, sexual preference, religion, age and nationality are all protected classes in employment. An employer cannot discriminate based on any of these qualities, however, a glance at a personal Facebook page can quickly reveal each of these and potentially increase the possibility of illegal discrimination in hiring.

Federal law does allow an employer to use publicly available information on Twitter, Facebook or other social media outlets as part of a background check process. However, requesting an applicant’s login may be a step beyond what federal laws and regulations allow. The action is already forbidden by Facebook’s own terms of service, but whether that’s enough to stop a prospective employer from logging in may carry little weight. Despite the violation being a federal crime, the Department of Justice has said that it will not prosecute those in violation of the login policies.

While many employers may argue that those who have given up Facebook passwords as part of the interview and screening process have done so voluntarily, when one needs a job whether the information was truly volunteered or provided under duress or coercion is debatable.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Is Facebook profiling of job applicants fair or legal?,” Michelle Maltais, March 20, 2012

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