News that some employers were asking job applicants for their Facebook passwords led to a national outcry earlier this year.
Social media sites lit up with anger among job seekers and workers across the country, and politicians jumped into the fray to condemn the practice.
Even Facebook’s management added their condemnation, threatening legal action against employers who pressured individuals to hand over their passwords:
“In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information,” wrote Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer in March. “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.”
The uproar prompted Maryland and Illinois to introduce legislation curtailing employers from asking for passwords, and earlier this month Maryland became the first state in the nation to ban the practice. And in March, two U.S. senators called for the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate the procedure.
Now Delaware is getting in on the act.
Rep. Darryl M. Scott (D-Dover) introduced H.B. 308 on April 26 calling for the prohibition by employers from asking workers for their social networking logins and passwords.
“We were hearing about and reading about this occurring and had a concern about it occurring in Delaware,” said Scott. “The concern led some of us to believe it is worth pursing legislation.”
Here’s a synopsis of the bill:
Under current law there is no recognized right to privacy in an employee or applicant’s social networking site passwords and account information. This Bill makes it unlawful for employers to mandate that an employee or applicant disclose password or account information that would grant the employer access the employee’s or applicant’s social networking profile or account. This Bill also prohibits employers from requesting that employees or applicants log onto their respective social networking site profiles or account to provide the employer direct access.
In this digital age, workplace practices are changing rapidly, largely benefitting from the easy-to-access, endless data and unprecedented connections the Internet affords. But among the winners there have been some casualties, most notably the private lives of workers as employers increasingly look to social networking sites as a resource to screen job applicants or keep tabs on their existing workers.
According to data from the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM, 56 percent of human resource managers use social media sites when they research job candidates today, a huge increase from the 34 percent in 2008.
Most employers use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter when checking out job seekers, the organization reported.
“Employers are increasingly using social networking sites to engage passive job seekers – those who aren’t really actively seeking new jobs, but might change for the right opportunity,” said Mark Schmit, vice president of research at SHRM. “These sites can be valuable tools for organizations to find prospective employees with the specific skill sets and experience that they might not necessarily find through more traditional recruiting methods.”
The main reasons employers are checking workers out online, according to SHRM are:
• to source passive job candidates who might not otherwise apply for open jobs or be contacted by the organizations’ recruiters (84 percent);
• to use a less expensive method than other ways of recruiting job candidates (67 percent); and
• to increase employer brand and recognition (60 percent).
But how much is too much when it comes to spying on employee cyber habits?
Scott believes forcing workers to hand over their passwords crosses the line.
“If you have information you have protected with a password and you share within a private network of friends and family, you shouldn’t be forced to disclose that information,” he explained.
For some employers, however, getting to that information can be valuable.
While Richard Heffron, senior vice president of government affairs for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t think employees should have to hand over their passwords in order to get jobs, he does believe employers should be able to get access to social networking accounts if a company suspects wrongdoing.
“For example,” he said, “if an employer is seeing propriety company information being sent via social media, then you want the right to ask for an employee to give it.”
In the case of health care organizations, he added, a hospital may want to know if an employee is sharing private patient information.
Heffron is not questioning the intent of Scott’s legislation but he does want an amendment of some sort to deal with situations like these.
The main issue is analyzing all the possible scenarios and figuring out what’s best in this ever-changing digital world, he stressed. “You always have to be careful with new legislation,” he advised. “Only one other state has passed something like this and we don’t want to look back next year and say, ‘What did we do?’”
Scott said he’s also heard concerns from law enforcement in the state, because for many the practice of asking for social networking passwords has become part of standard procedure when checking out applicants.
Indeed, much of the hubbub nationally about password disclosures began when a story about a Maryland corrections official demanding the password in order to recertify a worker broke last year.
While such stories get a lot of publicity, the majority of employers don’t ask for employee or job candidate passwords, maintained Nick Fishman, co founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, an employee-screening company.
“The cases of employers asking for this are few and far between,” he noted. “At the end of the day, I don’t think employers should be asking for passwords and I’m not against laws banning this, but in my opinion it’s a waste of time for lawmakers.”
For Scott, it’s anything but a waste of time. “The fundamental issue is a person’s right to privacy,” he stressed.
At this point, he’s considering additional language to the bill to deal with all the concerns from businesses and law enforcement, but he had one question for all the parties worried about the legislation: “What did you do before Facebook?”
Sheriffs’ powers bill passes House
The bill seeking to clarify the powers held by county sheriffs in Delaware passed the House of Representatives Thursday. House Bill 325 was approved by a 36-2 vote , with two absent and one not voting.
HB 325 aims to make clear that county sheriffs and their deputies do not have arrest authority.
The bill advances to the Senate a day after Sussex County sheriff Jeff Christopher filed suit in Superior Court against Sussex County, its county administrator, and county council asking the court to affirm he has the constitutional authority to to carry out a variety of law enforcement duties, including arrests and traffic stops.
The only no votes were from Rep. John Atkins (D-Millsboro) and Minority Whip Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View). Rep. David Wilson (R-Bridgeville) was the “no vote”. On the House floor after the vote, Rep. Wilson explained he did not vote because he feels the question of the sheriffs’ powers is constitutional not statutory and best decided in the courts. he would have preferred an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court before pursuing legislation
“The question is simple:’Does the State Constitution give the sheriff enforcement powers?’ By passing House Bill 325, we are simply adding a statute that may prove unconstitutional,” said Rep. Wilson. “I see no reason to add fuel to a fire that doesn’t need to be stoked. Rather than add [this bill] to the statue, I prefer that the courts of the State of Delaware resolve this constitutional dilemma.”
HB 325 now heads to the Senate for consideration.