I’m having a really hard time understanding some employers today.

As I travel the country and spend time with business leaders, it’s very disturbing to me how many have firewalls installed that prevent their employees from using the social networks during business hours.

As if they aren’t just using their phones to get online during the day. Some business leaders go so far as to take phones away as soon as a person walks in the door to prevent even that.

I really don’t understand it. Unless you’re running a daycare for adults, is the trust level so low you can’t expect they’ll get their jobs done if they spend 10 minutes on Facebook during the day? We can allow smoke breaks, but not social media breaks.

It blows my mind, but I didn’t think it could get worse.

And then I read about some companies requiring employees to hand over their social network passwords in order to get hired.

Stop. The. Madness.

This reminds me of the companies that read people’s emails, looking for reasons to fire them. This happened to a friend of mine. She sent an email to a recruiter from her Hotmail account, they were reading anything going over their network, and they fired her.

It didn’t happen to me and I felt betrayed for her. And, really, who has the time?

Thankfully Facebook is stepping in, speaking out against businesses who do this.

Facebook chief privacy officer Erin Egan writes in a Friday blog post:

In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information. This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends. It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.

If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends.

Reports of such practices are widespread. In June 2009, the city of Bozeman, Montana made headlines when it was revealed that its job applications forms asked for usernames and passwords for the job seekers accounts on “social networking,” including everything from Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and Google.

Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union took aim at the Maryland Department of Corrections after it asked a Maryland man for his Facebook credentials during a recertification interview.

And last week, the Calgary Herald reported on a similar incident in Canada.

It’s even against our civil liberties for employers to hire or fire based on what we have on our social networks.

Employers: Watch how you monitor the social networks for candidates and employees. You could get in a lot of trouble if you’re too closely monitoring the personal activities of your team.

Employees: While it’s still important to be careful what you post online, if anyone asks for your passwords or writes you up (or, worse, fires you) for something you’ve posted on your personal network, you have some recourse.

This doesn’t apply for anything posted on business social networks so mind your Ps and Qs.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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