Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Still growing: the 'known' list of employers demanding Facebook passwords

The "publicly known" list of employers demanding access to employees' Facebook passwords is short, but growing. Lewis Cass Intermediate School District in Michigan is the latest to join the list.

Kimberly Hester, a teacher's aide at Frank Squires Elementary in Cassopolis, Michigan was fired last year when she refused to give up her Facebook password. She is now currently embroiled in a legal fight with the school district.

It all began in April of 2011, when Hester jokingly posted a picture on Facebook, one showing a co-worker’s pants around her ankles along with a pair of shoes, captioned “Thinking of you.” The post was done on Hester's own time, on her own computer.

A parent (also a Facebook friend of Hester's) saw the photo and complained to the school. A few days later, superintendent Robert Colby asked her three times for access to her Facebook account. Hester refused.

In a letter to Hester from the Lewis Cass ISD Special Education Director, Colby wrote “... 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."

Soon thereafter, Hester was put on paid administrative leave and eventually suspended. She chose to take unpaid leave and to collect workman’s compensation, and promised to put up a legal fight. In a statement, she said,

“I stand by it. I did nothing wrong. And I would not, still to this day, let them in my Facebook. And I don’t think it’s OK for an employer to ask you.”

The problem is there are no state or federal laws protecting social media privacy in the workplace. Last week, a proposed Facebook privacy protection law was shot down by Republicans in the U.S. house of Representatives.

That said, several states, including Michigan, are considering legislation of their own. Michigan State Representatives Matt Lori and Aric Nesbitt, in fact, are including Hester's story in House Bill 5523, which will make it illegal for employers to ask employees and prospective employees for their Facebook password.

As we said, the "publicly known" list of employers such as the Lewis Cass Intermediate School District is growing.  There is undoubtedly a number of people have not come forward with similar stories.

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