Would you accept a Facebook friend request from your boss? Could it hurt your career if you don’t? Even worse, can it hurt your job security if you do? According to a new survey, many workers are finding themselves faced with this dilemma and are feeling pressured to click “accept.”
“Making the Connection: How Facebook is Changing the Supervisory Relationship” survey from Russell Herder found younger workers (age 18 to 34) are more likely to be Facebook friends with their bosses at 26%, compared to just 10% of those 35 or older. In addition, 38% of survey respondents said their bosses initiated the relationship and 29% felt “pressured” to accept the request.
And let’s say you are on a job interview and the person behind the desk asks you for your Facebook login and password, should you object? Also getting media attention is the debate over whether such companies that ask potential hires for their social media login information are out of bounds. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) have called for an immediate end to this practice, and have asked the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice to look into the matter.
While asking for social media logins may not be illegal, labor and employment attorney Lori Adelson of Arnstein and Lehr said small business owners should not open themselves up to risk by requesting such information from applicants. If a potential hire willingly gives their social media logins at your request, that is one thing, but it’s not an area to really press a person on, she said.
“If an employer wants to ask and the person says, ‘No,’ that should be the end of it,” Adelson said. “If the applicant voluntarily gives it to you there is no invasion of privacy claim. But all of the potential risks are for the employer.”
Asking for the login information may be tempting for small businesses to do because they don’t have the capacity to conduct in-depth background checks for new hires, Adelson said.
“A small business owner may see this as a cost-savings [measure] or a tool when they don’t think they can go through a whole background screening,” she said. “A larger employer might not do this because they have expert lawyers and more training in what to do and what not to do.”
One social media site where requesting a potential employee’s login is more acceptable in Adelson’s opinion is LinkedIn.
“It’s a business site, so you want to make sure they’re not misrepresenting themselves on their resume or application,” she said. “Be prudent, but it’s more understandable.”
Diane Pfadenhauer, president of Employment Practices Advisors, said asking applicants for any social media login information is just “absurd.”
“I think there is so much danger—you will find out stuff about people that you don’t want to know,” she said. “There’s basis for bias claims too if you see someone’s religion, interests or off-duty activities.”
She also does not recommend Googling potential hires, she said.
“The information you get may not be accurate,” Pfadenhauer said. “The real issue is the potential accusations that may arise. There is a serious question as to whether an employer can log into someone else’s account. Any intelligent HR person would tell you there is just no good that will ever come of it.”
As for hitting that “friend request” button on Facebook, or “follow” on Twitter, Adelson has one word for business owners—don’t.
“Just do not do it,” she said. “You are not friends. Facebook is a social media site. If you want to [add] them on LinkedIn that is one thing, because it is meant for business purposes and it’s a different medium. But on Facebook, if you have an employer-employee relationship, it’s not wise.”
Also, be sure you have a clearly drafted social media policy in place for your workers. This way it’s clear to them what they can and cannot do on these sites in the office, and what they can and cannot post about work on their profiles.
Pfadenhauer echoed Adelson, and said if you wouldn’t hang out with your workers at the local watering hole or have regular social engagements with them, then resist the urge to be friends on the Web.
“Workplace policies will apply,” she said. “Whether it’s on Facebook or at the local watering hole, it’s a work issue. In any kind of social activity with an employee online or in person, I would say be careful.”