Workplace harassment 2.0 - employers snooping on social media
by Phil Prendergast
The EU must draft laws to prevent employers asking potential workers for their Facebook or Twitter log-in information during job interviews - says MEP
If a prospective employer asked you to hand over your Facebook or Twitter log-in information in an interview, would you? Of course not. But then, given the tough economic situation and stiff competition for jobs, would you have a real choice? In a landmark move, employers in the American state of Maryland will be forbidden by state law to require workers and job applicants to supply passwords to private social media accounts on condition of employment. While Maryland is the first state to pass such a law, similar initiatives are coming up for consideration in other parts of the United States - including California, Illinois and Michigan. Europe should now follow suit.
This problem came to light across the Atlantic last year when a former employee of Maryland's prison service complained about being requested to turn over his Facebook password during an interview. This disgraceful practice has since become increasingly common and there are many reports of suitable candidates for jobs being turned down after employers checked their social media activity.
Facebook, for its part, has reacted commendably - threatening to take employers who engage in this behaviour to court and to strip them of their corporate Facebook accounts. But it is by no means enough to rely on these companies to protect our privacy. At a time when social media plays an ever-increasing role in people's personal and professional lives, Maryland's new rules set important limits on potential company prying; when it comes to the private lives of employees. Workers have a right not to have their privacy violated by the curious eyes of employers. Job applicants are particularly vulnerable to this intrusion - for fear that a refusal to reveal their social network passwords will rule them out of the application process. Lawmakers have a responsibility to take action to counter this with legislation, if necessary.
While the law cannot prevent open access to what people do on the internet, there is a need to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the management of personal data on social networking sites to promote the safe use of personal information. This is of particular relevance for young people, who are growing up in a world where an ever increasing amount of information is held about them. Alongside this, the possibility for European Union legislation to better protect workers and job seekers' privacy in the digital world must also be investigated. The internet is borderless, making common European rules crucial and easier to enforce on multinational companies. It would also offer companies greater legal certainty.
This is an issue I intend to raise in my capacity as a member of the European Parliament, especially in the context of the data protection package that will be coming to the EP during this legislature. European workers and jobseekers must be assured that there is a line separating their personal and professional lives that they have a right to maintain, and that deserves to be respected.
Phil Prendergast is an Irish MEP for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats group, and sits on the European Parliament delegation for relations with the United States