As I sit here, secure in my stay-at-home-dad-hood, “decolorizing” and repurposing scans of arcade marquees I once owned so Little E can have coloring pages with Dig Dug characters on them, and continuing to send out applications for gigs that would allow me to bring in some money without sacrificing the stuff I do for my family by staying at home. No problem, right? It’s more of a tightrope walk than you think, since I’m currently the guy who does the dishes, laundry, cleaning, cooking, lawn work, homeschooling, and fighting like hell to make sure no one handling my son’s therapy is slacking off on their end of things. Throw even a part-time gig into the middle of that pond, and it’s going to make the kind of splash that washes me up on the shores of the living room sofa around bedtime.
It doesn’t encourage me one bit that we’re now hearing reports of employers demanding unconditional control of social media accounts – not just access, but “we-want-your-password” control – and if that’s not bad enough, they now want your past W-2s and tax returns.
I’m fully aware that the current job market is a “buyer’s economy,” but this seems to have translated into sheer insanity for some employers. Trawling through Facebook accounts and past tax records is just bad news. I don’t normally like to be the one to bum rush the legislative branch and scream:
…but this is a case where an exception clearly needs to be made.
Yes, I understand that we live in the age of social media, and one employee pulling one stupid stunt can result in a backlash that effectively wipes out whatever good PR footprint the employer was trying to leave. But the employers need to understand that while they can own the message, they can’t own the people.
What’s in my past tax returns and on my Facebook page is really none of their business. If they want to follow me on Facebook, okay, that’s fine. Send a friend request. You’ll get lots of links to this fine blog, kitty pictures, and updates on what me and the boy are doing on any given day. Nothing sensitive, sure, but it doesn’t have to be for me to want to guard my privacy. The old standby of “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear” is, as one former employer of mine repeatedly said about a great many things, a big load of horseshit.
Let’s look at what’s wrong with employers demanding this information. If anything, this is only a cursory, scratch-the-surface list off the top of my head.
- Discrimination made easy. Current employment law not only forbids employers from discriminating against candidates on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, age, or other “protected categories,” but it forbids them from asking questions during the hiring process that directly or indirectly reveal these things.
But if you just hand over personal records that may contain that identifying information, they didn’t even have to ask those trouble questions, did they? They got the information they wanted. And anyone who feels that these statistics don’t rip jobs out from under qualified candidates just because the law forbids it is incredibly naive. Some mealy-mouthed, vague mention of “lacking the proper qualifications” – even in the case of eminently qualified candidates – is usually the official reason.
- Salary stalks. Your tax records include information on your past earnings. Granted, many employers insist that you provide them with a brief salary history anyway, and how much money you were earning is one of the questions that can legally be put to a previous employer. But it can also divulge numbers that can materially affect the new salary you might be offered – in essence, it provided a guideline as to how much they’ll be able to screw you over. It’s also illegal to coerce someone to hand over their tax records, and to me, “you won’t be considered for this job unless you give us your paperwork” sounds like coercion..
- Extreme loss of privacy. Regardless of who I’m working for, unless they have me in a position where I’m paid to be on call and available instantly 24/7, I do not have to account for my actions or whereabouts outside of work. I don’t go out and get wasted every weekend, but even if I did, it’s not my potential employer’s business unless it has a direct effect upon my ability or availability to perform my job. Even though most of my Facebook wall is funny cat pictures and links to my blog, it’s not anyone’s business unless I friend them. I’d have to think long and hard about being “required” to friend the HR department. It doesn’t matter that it’s usually about my cats – the real question isn’t “what do you have to hide?”, the real question is “what and why do you want to know?”
For the record, Corporate America, this is precisely the kind of thing that fuels the 99%/Occupy movement: the notion that companies own us if they hire us, complete with intrusion into our lives and private records. It doesn’t work that way. But this sort of stuff keeps happening, simply because the existing anti-discrimination laws don’t have specific language addressing social media privacy or demanding tax returns as part of a hiring procedure. (There’s probably also no specific law on the books about dealing someone the death of a thousand cuts with sword-shaped plastic cocktail stirrers, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay.)
So this sort of thing is what leads to we, the little people, calling for our Congresscritters to…
…which, of course, gets the corporate world’s hackles raised, because here are a bunch of new laws that’ll require a paper trail proving that the laws are being adhered to.
No matter how grateful the average working Joe is to have a job, that doesn’t mean that the company owns him. Not by a long shot.
I’ll tell you what: you want my Facebook password and my tax returns? Let’s do a deal. I’ll trade ya. You can have them in exchange for your company’s bank routing and account numbers and admin passwords.
Oh, wait, I’m sorry. Do you feel violated?