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Employment Law Blog

Maryland Agency Suspends Policy Of Requiring Applicants To Provide Usernames and Passwords To Facebook and Other Social Media Accounts

Not long ago, I wrote about the unfortunate waitress who was fired after posting derogatory information about her employer’s customers on her Facebook account. In this day and age, workers should understand that employers routinely scour social media sites in conjunction with hiring decisions, when confronted with troubled employees and in a myriad of other circumstances. Putting aside the legal pitfalls associated with this practice, employees and job applicants have discovered the brutal consequences of posting information, pictures or videos that employers may take a dim view of. Think about it — if two qualified candidates with equal credentials apply for the same position but one had explicit and inappropriate information plastered all over his “wall,” which would you hire?

Recently, a large Maryland employer decided to push the envelope on this issue and demanded that applicants and some employees provide their usernames and passwords to their social media accounts as a condition of employment.  According to the ACLU, the Maryland Division of Corrections (“MDOC”) “has a blanket requirement that applicants for employment with the division, as well as current employees undergoing recertification, provide the government with their social media account usernames and personal passwords for use in employee background checks.”   According the ACLU’s blog, an employee of MDOC was required to provide his Facebook login and password during a recertification interview. Once he provided it, the interviewer logged on to his account and reviewed the content. The ACLU’s letter to Maryland’s Public Safety Secretary and a video of the employee telling his story can be found on the ACLU Blog.

An NBC report states that the MDOC simply wanted to make sure that their employees are not engaged in any illicit activities. The MDOC has issued their own statement, defending and explaining their actions: “DPSCS reserves the right to inquire about a possible candidate’s Facebook account during the hiring or re-certification process. However, it does not require/demand it as stated in the ACLU release. A candidate’s refusal is not grounds for disqualification.”

Not surprisingly, MDOC recently suspended its Facebook-password policy for job applicants following the negative publicity resulting from the ACLU blog post in opposition to the practice. Maryland Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard notified the ACLU that he had suspended the social-media password requirement for 45 days pending a review of the policy.

Marc Smith