Bill would shield social media during hiring
By PETER HIRSCHFELD
Vermont Press Bureau | January 23,2013
MONTPELIER — That mortifying Facebook photograph your old college buddy tagged you in last week? It may not be such a deal-breaker after all.
Vermont lawmakers want to shield the social media accounts of job applicants from the prying eyes of their would-be employers.
For the second year in a row, Sen. Dick Sears is pushing legislation that would make it illegal for employers to request from job seekers their passwords to Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. He attached similar language to ill-fated jobs legislation last year; Sears said Tuesday that he’ll seek passage of the provision as stand-alone legislation in 2013.
Sears said he’s unaware of any instances of Vermont employers demanding access to applicants’ online profiles as a condition of employment. He said reports of the trend nationally, however, merit some proactive steps in the Green Mountains.
“It’s sort of like saying, when you come in for your interview, bring your diary with you, and we’re going to read your diary,” said Sears, a Bennington County Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Vermont isn’t the first jurisdiction to tackle the issue of human resources personnel hunting for skeletons in online closets. Federal lawmakers last year considered a ban on the practice; in September, California enacted legislation prohibiting employers from requesting passwords to social media accounts.
“It’s a practice that has (increased) over the past five years, and I actually know younger people coming into the job market who are naïve ... and who are asked as a matter of course to provide Facebook and Twitter password information, the rationale being that (the) company didn’t want to be embarrassed, and you have nothing to hide,” Sen. Philip Baruth said.
Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Sears’ diary analogy effectively conveys the scope of the intrusion when companies gain access to applicants’ social media accounts.
“People are assumed to have reasonable expectations of privacy in their jobs, and I think there’s a reasonable expectation that what you write ... in what is essentially an online journal — a Facebook page — is private,” Gilbert said. “And an employer should not be able to make it a condition of employment to make you ... provide them with access to personal information that you might not want them to have.”
Human Resources Commissioner Kate Duffy said the administration supports the bill, on the condition that it waive the prohibition on online scrutiny for applicants to the Vermont State Police. “Background checks for these individuals is fairly significant,” Duffy said. “I think we hold troopers to a higher level and do kinds of checks on troopers we don’t do with the average state employee.”
Duffy said the state also wants to ensure that the law wouldn’t prevent her department from accessing employees’ social media accounts even with a subpoena.