Facebook and job applicants

Date: March 25th, 2012
Author: Daniel Lublin
Publication: Metro
Must you turn over your Facebook password to a potential employer?  This will be the question faced by Canadian employees as this practice gains popularity in the United States and is taking a foothold here.
For starters, employers have for some time been reviewing potential employees’ Facebook profiles to glean information about their behaviour.  No surprise there since pictures do not lie, people do.  There is only so much that can be learned during an interview and from personal references that are seldom impartial.  However, online profiles often reveal very genuine information about an individual’s behaviour and predispositions, and can be linked to what type of employee they will ultimately become.
The practice of reviewing Facebook accounts, however widespread, is not illegal.  There are no laws limiting an employer from considering only the information that a candidate provides and, if certain information is posted online, it is considered open season.  The only limitation is human rights statutes, which provide that employers cannot make hiring decisions based on prohibited grounds, such as age, religion or sexual orientation.  However, demonstrating discrimination during a job interview is nearly impossible to prove and outside of the specific grounds delineated in human rights codes, other very personal information receives absolutely no protection.  Employers can decline applicants because they just don’t like them and if that impression is developed from reviewing their Facebook profile, it is not illegal.
How about demanding a candidate’s Facebook log in information?  The story in last week’s news about the would-be police officer who was told to hand over his log information caused many to label this practice as illegal.  However, there is no law preventing it, regardless of how inappropriate it may seem.  Both Facebook itself and the Ontario Human Rights Commission posted a statement cautioning employers from using this practice since it may be used to indirectly obtain discriminatory information.  But their position has no legal weight and employers can too easily point to other reasons why an individual was not hired.
While demanding login information may not be illegal, it will still cause a public outcry.  So what should job applicants faced with this issue do?  Similar to how Facebook is now being used to track down social miscreants, such as with the Stanley Cup riots or the G20 protests, it can be used to pillory employers who engage in this practice.  I will not be surprised when this happens.