Human Resources News & Insights

‘Want a job? Just give us your Facebook password’

This employer’s taken the concept of online background checks to a new level.

To apply to work for the city of Bozeman, Montana, candidates are asked to list “any and all” Web sites, chat rooms and social networking groups they belong to (“including but not limited to Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.”) — along with their usernames and passwords.

Many hiring managers Google applicants’ names or look for them on Facebook, but actually wanting to log in to their personal profiles is something new entirely.

Why does the city want that access? According to city attorney Greg Sullivan, it’s “to make sure the people that we hire have the highest moral character and are a good fit for the city,” The Consumerist reports.

Sullivan also said the city doesn’t look at “the things that the federal Constitution lists as protected things” (whatever that means).

The story has drawn a lot of attention, especially considering there’s a debate going on about whether hiring managers should even look at candidates’ profiles, let alone obtain log-in information.

Do you think any employer has the right to ask for usernames and passwords from applicants? Should social networking profiles play any role in the background check process at all?

Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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  • Amber

    I think that there is nothing wrong with searching websites as we have done that in the past, but to get their log in information is crossing the line. If we need to do a more serious background check we will be checking their references as well as doing an official background check.

  • R. B.

    I absolutely do not believe it is right for any employer to ever ask an applicant for their username and password for personal accounts. If the employer doesn’t provide the software, network, equipment (in short, if the person isn’t an employee and the passwords and user account names aren’t related to business / work applications), it’s none of their business. I would be very offended if anyone asked me for my Facebook password. I feel like this is an invasion of my privacy, that it would give them access to protected information and if that’s the kind of garbage the employer is doing to require, I don’t want to have any kind of relationship with them. I would not submit an application.

    On the flip side, as an HR manager, I would never ask an applicant for this kind of information. Never.

  • NK

    Absolutely not! That is personal information and personal space.

  • Wondering

    This sounds illegal. Surely someone will take this to court. I would not want to work for a company, or government agency, that requires this level of involvement in one’s private life. What next? Passwords and log on id for bank accounts, medical accounts, etc.

  • Maryposa

    I agree with R.B. in that I don’t think it is right to ask for the passwords. However, I would agree with asking for a list of the different web sites, rooms and groups they belong to and their login name there, as these are viewable by anyone in the public who has a computer and an internet connection. It could give them insight as to how the prospective employee might interact with others – both on and off the job. In these days of over-litigation, an employer can’t be too careful about who he hires, and gleaning what information is publicly available is one way to “hedge your bets”. On the side of the applicant, I don’t think the employer should make it mandatory that they give out this information, or consider omissions a “deal-breaker”, in that some accounts could reveal protected information (groups that deal with health concerns, age-related groups, etc.).

  • R.G.

    I would not advise a recruiter to do this. The information that can be contained on a personal page could open up exposure to discrimination law suits. You can view race of partners and friends, political affiliations, church groups….you get the idea.

    This is a bad idea for recruiters.

  • I too agree with R.B. and Maryposa and go a step further. Is it considered okay to ask for a list and copies of persons they talk with on the phone and/or with whom they interact with via written correspondence sent through various mail systems whether on-line or not to ask them for an opinion? What about a record of conversation over lunch or dinner, or with family members or this post? These sets of interactions give one an idea of the candidate’s interpersonal skills in settings that are more intimate. This could be justified as the workplace often consists of close relationships within the context of daily business and confidences. Where does one draw the line, as almost any form of communication and/or networking can give an indication of personal style?? Asking for this information would practically necessitate keeping a “public” version of interaction for use professionally – an interesting proposition indeed.

  • Jennifer

    I completely agree with R.B. above, this information is absolutely NONE of the employer’s business. Googl’ing someone is one thing, but what the employee does on their own time or what affiliations they belong too is of no relevance to the ER. If it is discovered to be in volition of company policy during business hours, or a disruptive nature brought to the workplace as a result of what is done on personal time, then perhaps necessary measures need to be taken. I, as an HR professional, would NEVER give a list of what groups, networks, sites, etc I belong to to my ER. No way!

  • Joan

    I agree with Jennifer and RB. This crosses the line! I don’t even belong to any and I am outraged.

  • I think that it is perfectly acceptable to google/goodsearch a potential employee to see what is “out there” in the public realm. With written permission it is also acceptable to run both criminal and financial background checks on them.
    However, I think that it is a violation of privacy to ask someone for their usernames and passwords. To me this is no different than expecting a new hire to submit to a strip search.

  • Deborah

    Are you kidding?! There is no such thing as a “no risk” hire. If you can’t find it in a traditional new hire background check, you don’t need to know it. I love it that it’s a government entity doing this…what’s next? Medical records? Dental records? Diet plans you’ve tried and failed at? I hope they didn’t get anyone so in need of a job that they actually provided this info! Not me…I’d work at a fast food restaurant first!

  • This could open up a can of worms that could legally cost the company quite a bit of money and bad media coverage impacting it’s name. You absolutely cannot take into account an employee’s personal life into consideration unless it involves criminal convictions which you can find if you are doing thorough background investigations. This is flat out discriminatory and I am very surprised that a lawsuit has not yet happened. It is as illegal as asking the employee how many kids they have or what their spouse does for a living, your just not asking the questions, you are looking at their social networking site to find out.

    Jennifer Smith

  • While I can see why the city would want to protect their image, perhaps they should educated employees about protecting their identity online, instead of having access. Then again, where do people finally cross the line between personal space and work? At this rate, you might as well be saying that you’ll be monitored 24/7 and expected to have an “On-Duty” appearance.

  • Glory Girl

    I too agree with R.B. and Maryposa, not only is it unacceptable to give my passwords up. What about the privacy of my family & friends who have allowed me & only me to view their personal information. What about the confidential e-mails between my sister & I regarding her personal issues. I would consider letting an employer view my profile if, they sent me a friend request. I absolutely would not give my password, It goes against all that we in society have been taught. It would show a gross neglience to any employer, if you would willing give up information so private so easily. Maybe it’s part of a test on their part.

  • Sr. HR Rep

    I’d have to say that if a city or other hiring agency asked my advice on initiating this practice, I’d have to recommend that they not do so. It seems too litigious.