Last month, the city of Bozeman, Mont., was the focus of much discussion among social networking sites and privacy experts. The city was asking job applicants for their user names and passwords to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other such sites. Not only were they perhaps encroaching a little too much on prospective employees' privacy, they were also causing the applicants to violate user agreements with those sites.
After a couple of days, the city backed off and is no longer asking job applicants for social networking log-in credentials.
That's a good start. At least that way Bozeman is not requiring that applicants violate the site user agreements. However, the city should be careful about even perusing information they can find on social networking sites without log-in credentials. The same is true of any employer, actually.
If, in the process of what some have called "screening" on a social networking site, the employer inadvertently comes across information about the applicant's age, race, family planning, religion or any other protected status, and that information improperly influences the hiring decision, they could then be liable for discrimination on state and/or federal levels.
So is it appropriate to do any screening via social network sites? If so, how should one best go about it to avoid collecting "off limits" information? And, if such information comes up, what then? How does the employer protect itself from potential discrimination claims?
I plan to speak with a privacy law expert to get some answers shortly, so stay tuned.