This week, two Senators called on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the practice of employers demanding access to an applicant's Facebook account as part of the interview process.
Not only would sharing login and password data violate Facebook's Terms of Service, and risk having the user's account suspended, the practice puts a potential employer at risk of legal action. Facebook profiles typically contain the user's age and sometimes religion, which are protected by Federal Employment Law. A legal argument could also be made if employment were denied based on any group affiliation discovered.
I have worked in an off-campus student housing for the last decade, and employ college students as Community Assistants, similar to Resident Assistants in a dorm. While none of my employers has ever crossed the line and asked for account information from applicants or current employees, it has been a long-standing part of the hiring process for Community Assistants for mangers to snoop through the Facebook pages of applicants.
This is easily accomplished through current employees who are friends with the applicants, or through membership in similar groups, or simply by applicants making their profile public with no restrictions on viewing their information.
In early 2009, I was being considered for a promotion at my former employer. I was stunned when my supervisor walked into my office one day, closed the door, and opened a manila folder. Inside were printouts of every bit of public activity from my Facebook page for the previous six months: my wall posts, my pictures, pictures I was tagged in, bumper stickers sent and received, even comments I had posted on coworker's walls.
There was no smoking gun, as I had certainly not violated any of the rules of the workplace. There were no pictures of drug use, or alcohol use, nor anything written or posted that was obscene or inflammatory, nothing really that could be considered inappropriate. But having to defend yourself is unpleasant. And it is damaging. In a court of law we are innocent until proven guilty. In the court of public opinion, especially in the workplace, we are as guilty as the gossip leads people to believe we are.
I left three months later for another company and never looked back. But I did pare down my friends list significantly, after all, someone with access to my profile provided my employer with all the documents. I also put some hard restrictions on access to my profile and my pictures by categorizing 'friends' into groups like 'co-workers' and 'family' and 'schoolmates', each with their own access level.
A good rule, which I share with all my employees now, is to never put anything on Facebook you do not want the whole world to see. You never know who might be peeking.
*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.