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Social Media Intrusions Violate Employee Privacy

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 26, 2012

For starters, what are employers looking for? What constitutes "objectionable behavior" on a Facebook page that would nix a job applicant's prospects? Would it be evidence of illegal drug use, criminal conduct or other egregious failings? Or would it be evidence of sexual orientation, age, or religious or political affiliations? Who defines what is objectionable?

And it is hard to imagine that such an invasion of personal rights would be universally applied to all job applicants or employees. Is the CEO candidate being asked to hand over the keys to her Facebook account, or is it just the folks applying for a job on the custodial staff?

"It's an unfortunate side effect of the fact that the job market is so tight right now, that individuals in many situations are willing to surrender their privacy and other rights in an attempt to secure employment," Stephens says.

Such violations might be tolerated in the short term when jobs are scarce, but those employees will justifiably bolt at the first opportunity. It would not be surprising to learn that companies that engage in this behavior also suffer high turnover and lack of employee engagement, and fail to see the linkage.

Finally, it's really not very effective. There is nothing to stop a job applicant from erasing from their social media accounts everything that might be deemed offensive or controversial. "That doesn't make the practice any less harmful," Stephens says. "Essentially, what is the employer gaining if the employee prior to providing the information can essentially sterilize or bleach their profile?"

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