Hand over your Facebook password or you're fired!

Was a teacher's aide unfairly punished for asserting her right to privacy?
Written by Tuan Nguyen, Contributor

A teacher's aide was recently let go for refusing to give in to her employer's request for access to her Facebook account, adding more fuel to the fiery debate over whether companies have the right to demand access to an applicant's personal online profile.

Kimberly Hester, 27, and the Frank Squires Elementary School in Cassopolis, Michigan are now in a court battle to determine whether the administration may have overstepped legal boundaries that were established to protect a person's privacy.

The situation came to head about a year ago after a parent who was friends with Hester complained to the school administration upon seeing a compromising photo of a co-worker posted on her Facebook page. The post, intended as a joke, was a shot of the co-worker’s shoes with pants dropped around her ankles and a caption that read “Thinking of you."

Hester was eventually put on paid administrative leave and later suspended after she rebuffed the superintendent's demands that she hand over her Facebook password as part of the school's investigation into her conduct. As a basis for disciplinary the resulting action, the school wrote in letter that "…in the absence of you voluntarily granting Lewis Cass ISD administration access to you[r] Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly." Hester is appealing the suspension and is using the letter to argue that she was unfairly punished for asserting her right to privacy.

The case comes on the heels of alarming reports of employers and public agencies asking job applicants to provide passwords to social media acccounts. The ACLU has since condemmned the practice as a violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which they say protects such forms of communication.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said he plans to introduce a bill that would make it illegal for employers to make such a request. “These practices seem to be spreading, which is why federal law ought to address them. They go beyond the borders of individual states and call for a national solution,” Blumenthal told Politico.

Employers who've required such information have defended the practice as a form of screening to safeguard against behavior that might reflect badly upon the agency’s reputation should the person become an employee. Basically, they're just trying to ensure that there aren't any skeletons in that person's closet.

“You’re investing these individuals that you hire with the legal authority to arrest people and to, in a worst case scenario, take someone’s life,” an Oklahoma police officer told Human Resources Journal.

Facebook, however, has taken a stand against what they consider an invasion of an account holder's privacy and warned that there will be legal ramnifications for companies who attempt to access a member's account. Some Michigan State legislators also plan to cite Hester's case to build support for a bill that would make it illegal for employers to ask prospective as well as current employees for their password.

(via ZDNet)


This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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