Employer-employee relations 101’s first rule of engagement, you’d think, should probably be saying something along the lines of asking for the passwords of potential–or current–employees’ various social networking accounts blows stupid clear out of the water. You’d think. But you’d be wrong, as evidenced by, well, just run a google search for “employer asks for Facebook password” or something along that line. So, because it’s the thing to do these days, California goes and makes a law banning the practice. And, because it’s the common–usually justified (hello, SOPA)–reaction these days, folks are wondering if the law, which is supposed to counteract employers’ tendancy to reach well beyond where they should be, doesn’t perhaps go a little bit too far in the opposite direction.
Now, I agree with the second article in that you really shouldn’t need a law for the sole purpose of telling employers to mind their damn own, at least in the space of personal accounts. And yes, the lines can get significantly blurred if the employee’s been using their personal accounts for things related to and dealing with their employment (I’m looking at you, several people I follow or followed on Twitter). But at the same time, most employers that exercise at least some degree of common sense have either set up an official twitter account that specific employees have access to, or they’ve created accounts for their employees on whichever social networking platforms they plan to be using. Personal accounts, namely those ones that don’t deal primarily with the business, *should* reasonably be off limits. But no one ever said the common employer, or the common government employee, was the reasonable sort–a lesson I learned while dealing with ODSP, who while not my employer still tried their hand at looking for dirt on me, and pretty much anyone else they could find it on last year. And from that tangle of crap comes a law that may or may not provide an employer with a foothold to claim someone’s personal account on some social network is actually a business account, and should therefore be handed over either during that person’s employment or after they leave the company–see: LinkedIn as a perfect example.
Background checks are one thing. Monitoring official communications is one thing. Tracking official customer interaction is one thing. But here’s the big thing. My personal twitter is tied, well, to this site for one. But it’s personal–this is me, without the professional filter for the benefit of public relations. I’ll talk about whatever employment I happen to grab, if I happen to grab. Which means I’ll probably tweet some kind of official material related to the company. I’d do it even if I didn’t work for that company–because it’d be something I have an interest in. But if that employer, either during or after the hiring process, came up to me and told me they wanted my twitter password, or access to this site beyond what they’d get as a typical reader, or even access to the Facebook I pretty much rarely use, what they’d get in return is my two weeks’ notice and a special brand of fuck you. And if they did it as part of the interview process, that’s as far as that interview would go. I’d be out the door, on my way home, and composing a post for this thing over here on why it is you should not work for that company. And the awesome thing? None of that would require a law–especially a law that could potentially give that employer a foothold by saying that because I retweeted, or posted, their official press releases, my accounts are now business accounts.
I get what California’s trying to do. Really. And it’s awesome. But in trying to legislate common sense, I’m not entirely sure they didn’t just break it rather nicely. And that’s not going to do anyone very many favours either.