Closing the (Face) book

The Oregon Legislature has rightfully slammed the door on one alarming trend, employers' peering into the private lives of employees and job applicants.

The Oregon House on Thursday passed on a 56-3 vote a bill barring employers from demanding workers or job hopefuls turn over their Facebook passwords and other social-media login information. The Senate earlier overwhelmingly approved House Bill 2654, 28-1, so it now goes to the governor for his signature.

HB 2654 prohibits employers from requiring workers to "friend" or connect with them on social media. It also bans employers from snooping by making employees access their social-media accounts in front of them.

Employers have long had to steer away from certain questions about a job applicant's private life, such as how many children the person has and the individual's living arrangements. That's only proper, because a supervisor could discriminate based on the answers. For example, an employer could reject a woman with three small children, figuring she might take a lot of days off to tend to her children.

Of course, an employer wouldn't admit to that. He would probably give a job-related reason — such as, the woman didn't have enough of the skills needed — so discrimination would be hard to prove.

HB 2654 and similar legislation in other states need to be passed to update this workplace etiquette in today's modern, Facebook world. A job applicant or worker shouldn't have to throw open the door to his or her private life to obtain or keep a job.

Of course, if that private life is affecting job performance, then it does become a legitimate workplace issue, for example, a worker who parties too much at night and thus is consistently late for work.

There are proper exceptions, too, when it comes to the social media and the workplace. One exception in HB 2654 is when an employer has reason to believe a worker has violated company policies against misconduct or other requirements connected to his job.

In this case, the supervisor can ask the worker to share content from a social-media account to determine the facts of the case.

It needs to be reiterated, though, that people need to be responsible for what they post on Facebook or other social media. Just because a law says their employer can't rummage through their postings doesn't protect them from their own bad judgment. They can still embarrass themselves, be ripped off financially or even suffer physical harm if they're not careful.

The Internet has been around so long it probably feels like a familiar and helpful friend. However, one still has to proceed with caution and common sense or risk wandering into its dark side.

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