Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Job At What Cost? When Employers Log In To Dig In

 From:  NPR, All Tech Considered

by Dana Farrington 

How would it feel if you were in a job interview and the prospective employer asked for your username and password to see your Facebook profile? Robert Collins says he felt "violated."
"I felt disrespected. I felt that my privacy was invaded," he tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel, "but not only my privacy, the privacy of my friends and that of my family that didn't ask for that."
Collins was applying for a job with the Maryland Department of Corrections. He let his interviewer log in and search his profile with the screen facing away from him. The justification? The department says it's concerned about gang affiliation and gang infiltration in its facilities.
"I can appreciate their need to create a secure facility, but not at the cost of invading privacy," Collins says.
The Legislative Battle
He got the job but has since left to attend nursing school. He also took his complaint to the American Civil Liberties Union. The state suspended the practice and then changed its policy after the original complaint. Now, providing the username and password is not mandatory, but "we don't really feel that that's an adequate solution," says Melissa Goemann, the ACLU's legislative director in Maryland.
  Collins and the Maryland ACLU are working with state legislators on a bill that would prevent employers from even requesting such information. The bill passed the state Senate and is currently being considered by a House committee.
Goemann says the current policy violates First Amendment rights as well as Facebook's own privacy policy, which states:
"You will not share your password ... let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account."
Goemann calls the current policy "coercive," even though employers ask permission. Collins agrees.
"In today's jobs market, people can't afford to be jobless," he says. "People have to make that decision between their privacy and their family, and it's one that they should not be forced to make."
The Balancing Act
Why would employers even want to see this kind of information to begin with?
"At least conceptually, what employers are looking for is job-related information," says Steve Kane, a human resources expert with a background in labor law. "There are a whole lot of things one could argue could shine a light [on workplace performance]."
But that doesn't mean Kane thinks it's always worth it.
"What a lot of employers are doing ... I hate to use this word — are playing with fire," he says.
Employers are looking up information without getting permission. As the Associated Press reports:
"Companies that don't ask for passwords have taken other steps — such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview."
Accessing someone's Facebook profile could also reveal information that labor laws forbid employers to ask about, such as marital status, sexual orientation or political affiliation.
"We would like to believe that, you know, people are bias-free," Collins says. "But, you know, if we're honest with ourselves, we would admit that people do hold some personal bias."
Kane, the labor law expert, says employers should at least get the job applicant's written permission to access a social media account. And the employer should provide a justification for why that access is necessary.
Employers have to balance their need to know with the prospective employees' privacy, he says.
For some employers, the risks may be worth doing some extra digging. There has always been a downside to hiring the wrong person. Plus, almost all legal complaints filed are related to firing, not hiring, Kane says.
"Those cases are very, very infrequent," he says. "As a result, all employers have to do this balancing test."
Exceptions To Hypothetical Rules
Kane also notes that the rules are different for private jobs than for public ones, like the job Collins took with the Department of Corrections. The ACLU can argue that the government is violating employees' First Amendment rights; the argument is harder to make with a private company.
Any legislation on the topic should provide exceptions, Kane says, for protective service positions. In those cases, he argues, it may be necessary to know more personal information. However, Kane says he "can't think of that many jobs where you would need to know things that are not really job-related."
For now, he says, employers continue to wade through "unexplored territory."
"The law hasn't caught up with the technology here," Kane says.
As with other new technology through the years, he says, it will take time and new standards to answer the question of the employer's need to know versus the employee's privacy rights.
"What is considered private is always going to change," Kane says.
For Goemann of the ACLU, this fight has only just begun. Legislation similar to Maryland's is already being pursued in Illinois.
"I think as this story comes to light ... we're kind of just hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's happening with employment," she says.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Measures Aim to End Bias Against Long-Term Jobless

From - The Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2012

More than a dozen states are considering legislation to make it illegal for companies to discriminate against the unemployed.
State lawmakers say they see the bias turning up in a nation with an 8.3% unemployment rate: Companies that explicitly advertise that they won't hire someone who isn't currently employed.

Kim Keough, of Bethel, Conn., was laid off in 2008 and says she sees bias against the long-term unemployed.
The proposals from Connecticut to California range in scope from banning advertisements that require current employment to allowing unsuccessful job candidates to sue businesses under the same discrimination laws that apply to bias on the basis of religion, race, gender or national origin.
The efforts come as the percent of the long-term unemployed—people looking for work for more than six months—has consistently topped 40% since December 2009, when it broke that threshold for the first time since 1948, the year such data began being collected.
President Barack Obama included a similar measure as part of a federal jobs package that failed to gain traction in Congress last year.
Critics of the laws say creating a new protected class of employees places undue burdens on businesses and helps lawyers more than the unemployed.
"Creating a protected class of people who bring lawsuits is just going to benefit the people who bring the lawsuits," said Robert Topel, a labor economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
In New Jersey, the first state to pass such legislation, only one company, Crestek, Inc., has been cited for allegedly violating the law since it went into effect in June 2011. It was fined $1,000.
"We are challenging this. As a private employer, the government has no right in legislating how you hire and what's in your business's best interest," said Robin Lord, an attorney for Crestek, Inc., a Ewing, N.J., maker of industrial cleaning systems.
Supporters say the laws are needed to protect the unemployed.
Employers often worry that job skills erode the longer people go without working and may pass over unemployed workers because they assume other managers didn't hire them for good reason, said Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. Department of Labor economist.
Economists say that, generally, each passing month without a job makes an unemployed worker less likely to get hired. Many eventually drop out of the work force altogether.
"The longer you're unemployed, the more likely you are to be perceived as a risky hire and the less likely you are to get a job," Mr. Burtless said.
When Kim Keough lost her job in July 2008 at Stolt-Nielson USA Inc., a Norwalk, Conn., ship-tanker company, she expected to find another human-resources post within months. More than three years later, she is still looking and attributes the holdup in part to what she calls a widespread bias against long-term unemployed workers.
"Recruiters have told me not to bother sending in a resume if I'm not currently employed," said Ms. Keough, who is 46 years old and lives in Bethel, Conn. "It's damned if you do, damned if you don't...The longer you are out of work, the more discriminatory companies get."
Citing complaints of public job advertisements with explicit prohibitions on applications from unemployed workers, state lawmakers say removing the stigma of long-term unemployment could help the 5.5 million Americans who in January had been looking for work for more than six months. Nearly four million people in the U.S. have been out of work for a year or more, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Connecticut's proposed law would make it a discriminatory practice to refuse to hire someone who is unemployed, including it in the same human-rights statutes that protect classes such as a gender and race. Prospective employees could sue to recover damages and attorney's fees.
Under proposed legislation in California, a business would face $1,000 or more in fines for job postings or hiring decisions found to discriminate against the unemployed. In Florida, the fine goes up to $10,000 per violation.
The laws have varying levels of support. In Colorado, a bill to prohibit job ads from requiring applicants to be employed failed to make it out of a House Committee, which voted 7-5 Tuesday against an unemployment discrimination proposal. In Connecticut, the bill has the support of Democratic leaders, who hold a majority in the state.
With "Washington stuck in gridlock, we think we have a better chance of getting this passed at the state level," said state Senate President Don Williams, a Democrat. "We are not ordering employers to hire unemployed individuals, we are just asking businesses to ensure that everyone is able to get a foot in the door."
Write to Shelly Banjo at