For as long as there have been employers, there have been methods for weeding out the unsuitable candidates and selecting the better ones. What no job applicant ought to hear, however, is the question, “What is your Facebook password?”
The popularity of social networking sites like Twitter and especially Facebook has given these sites a unique prominence in employees’ personal, social and sometimes professional lives. Depending on your relationship with your coworkers, subordinates and supervisors, you may have some of these as Facebook “friends.” There are certain obvious cautions attached to this type of networking. If anyone you work with can see your social media posting “I’m so hung over today” as you head into work on a Monday morning, it’s not a good idea.
This is common sense. The workplace and regulations relating to human resources, hiring, firing and employee/employer disclosures are already a Byzantine maze of overlapping and sometimes contradictory mandates. It should not be the case that a special law is required telling employers they may not ask about your social media, or prescribing dire consequences if they do. For all of Facebook’s rumblings about filing legal action against employers who dare to ask employees for their passwords, it seems unlikely that this would occur except in the most egregious or highest profile of cases. The issue, however, is a valid one.
Who is your employer to demand your private login data?
Too seldom do we ask figures in authority, “Just who the hell do you think you are?” We forget, because employers and government figures hold power over aspects of our lives, that this power is not and never should be total. Your employer – prospective or otherwise – has certain very defined parameters within which you answer to your boss or bosses. These include telling you when you are expected to be at work, when you can take time off, and when you can expect to be paid for that time off. Your employer’s power over your life stops at the borders of that employer’s property. On your own time, it is not your employer’s business what you do, or why … unless you are stupid enough to reveal this carelessly.
Obviously, there is some overlap. If you’re a high school teacher and a student “uncovers” (meaning, probably, watches) some of the pornography you filmed in previous years, you’ll probably lose your job. If you insult your company and your boss on Facebook, then visit the site at work (and leave it open for your coworkers to discover), you’ll probably get fired. If you go on Facebook and threaten to kill your current or former coworkers with a machete, your future employability is not your biggest problem.
These boundaries are common sense. Far outside the realm of common sense is the demand, by a current or prospective employer, that you hand over your private login at the cost of a job. That’s just what happened to a teacher’s aide in Michigan, who was suspended after she refused to give her login data to a supervisor (who was investigating a parent’s complaint about an indiscreet photo). Where Facebook and on-the-job behavior intersect, there is room to argue the relevance of such invasion of your “privacy” – but what about bosses who want you to “friend” them so they can monitor your online activity? And what happens when you haven’t yet got the job, but are told your chances of getting the position are better if you let that employer poke through your Facebook photos?
This is not, and need not become, a matter of law. This is a matter of self-respect. It may be harder than ever, in Barack Hussein Obama’s miserable economy, to face the prospect of losing (or not getting) a job – but if you want to go through life standing on your feet, rather than crawling on your knees, you had better get used to the concept. To respect yourself and to conduct your life as a man or a woman (rather than as a little boy or a little girl) is to face unreasonable demands and refuse them. Whenever you resist the demands of someone in authority, there are consequences. These consequences can extend to losing your job or failing a job interview. The alternative, however, is to live your life as a fretful, groveling worm, willing to do anything to appease your masters.
Your employer is not your master. The employee-employer relationship is a voluntary transaction, a contract made between two parties to mutual benefit. The employer gets the labor he or she requires. The employee receives compensation for that labor in the form of wages and benefits. That relationship can and must be severed when the employee fails to perform. It also can and arguably should be broken when the employer presumes to invade the employee’s territory. The premises on which you work are your employer’s turf. Your personal life is yours, and woe unto any meddling manager who dares to think he owns that, too.
The appropriate response to the question, “Give me your Facebook password,” should be the sentences, “I’m sorry, there’s apparently been a misunderstanding. Are you telling me you don’t want me to work here?” Frankly, if an employer asserts ownership over the 16 hours a day that belong to you, you don’t want to work there. The sooner we assert and maintain these boundaries, the sooner employers will stop boldly demanding the right to trample them. The next time you are confronted with this presumption, the only appropriate rejoinder is, “Just who the hell do you think you are?”
A business or a government that believes it owns your personal life is treating you as its slave. This is in direct violation of the Constitution of the United States and of your natural rights as a sovereign human being. It’s time to behave as if we believe this and to take steps to enforce it – not as a “workforce,” not behind the curtain of government regulation, but as individuals.
You are nobody’s slave. Respect yourself accordingly.