THE growing trend for bosses asking prospective employees for their Facebook usernames and passwords is not illegal say employment lawyers.
There have been several cases reported in the US of people being asked for their Facebook passwords while being interviewed for a role.
Justin Bassett, a New York-based statistician, had just finished answering some standard character questions in a job interview, when he was asked to hand over his Facebook login information after his interviewer could not find his profile on the site, according to the Boston Globe.
Bassett refused and withdrew his job application, as he did not want to be employed by a business which would invade his privacy to such an extent.
Sarah Veale, head of equality and employment rights for the TUC, has warned that the practice is likely to start happening more and more.
“Once something like this starts happening in the US, it is likely to come over here – especially in American businesses which have outposts in UK. If interviewers in the US are adopting this practice of asking prospective staff for access to their Facebook accounts, they will start doing it over here.”
She described the request as both “dangerous and unnecessary”.
“I think it’s very dangerous and unnecessary to start asking people for access into their personal lives. Once you start asking people to reveal everything about themselves, which is irrelevant to their ability to be able to do a job, you are getting into a tricky area. It’s the equivalent of getting people to spy on prospective staff down at the pub before hiring them.
“It’s also quite a lazy way by bosses to get a full picture of somebody and shows that their interviewing process is unsatisfactory.”
Since the rise of social networking, there have been growing number of cases around the world where people have been sacked for writing disparaging comments about their jobs on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
While Lee Williams, an online retail worker from the Midlands, told The Telegraph that he was asked by his managing director for his Facebook login details, after his boss had looked him up on the social network and could not see any details about him as his privacy settings were locked down. The boss thought that Williams was hiding something by not having his profile publicly available.
Williams refused to hand his password over. His boss persisted with his request, but then let it go without taking any further action. Williams still works for the company, but did not wish to name it.
Two months ago, John Flexman, a former human resources executive, began a tribunal against his former employer, BG Group (a major gas exploration firm based in Reading, Berks), accusing the firm of forcing him out after he put his CV online through LinkedIn. He is thought to be the first person in the country to bring a case for constructive dismissal after a dispute with bosses over his profile on the professional networking site.
Flexman is claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds from BG Group, where he earned a £68,000 (€81,374) salary from his job in charge of graduate recruitment. The outcome is due later this year.
However, these American examples are some of the first reported cases of prospective employees being asked for their logins as a way of vetting them before the job is theirs.
Paula Whelan, an employment partner at Shakespeares law firm, said there was nothing to stop employers from asking for logins into social media. However, prospective employees had every right to refuse to hand over the said information.
“Prospective employees have every right to say 'no' as it is a request to access personal information and has nothing to do with somebody’s capability to do a job. And I cannot see any reason why a boss could not at least ask the question as there is nothing they can do to force an interviewee to hand over their Facebook login,” she explained.
Whelan also said that it would be extremely difficult if a person thought they didn’t get a job because they refused to hand over their login details when asked, to prove it was discrimination.
However, Ed Goodwyn, a partner in the employment team at Pinsent Masons, said that the legal situation was very different if a boss asked a current employee for their Facebook password while employed or continued to access their account post interview without telling them.
He said it would be “a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence” between employer and employee and urged bosses to draft clear social media policies.