• Thu, Apr 12 2012

It’s Starting: This Man Was Fired For Liking Something On Facebook

Last month we wrote about how some employers are asking candidates to hand over them their email and Facebook login information when they apply for a job. And now we have heard about our first invasion of privacy/horror story. Though this is also a case of what (allegedly) sounds like a homophobic employer and sexual orientation discrimination, it began with an invasion of social media.

According to Life Inc.’s Eve Tahmincioglu a former management analyst at the Library of Congress, Peter TerVeer, is claiming he was fired after he “liked” a Facebook page for same-sex parents, an act he says led to his boss discovering he is gay. He alleges when his manager, John Mech, discovered he was gay, TerVeer’s once-positive performance reviews turned negative. His boss also started making disparaging comments about his sexual orientation, according to TerVeer.

However, it gets a little weird when TerVeer’s therapist ordered him to take medical leave because of the stress which resulted in him getting fired last week for missing 37 consecutive days of work. According to Tahmincioglu, “TerVeer filed a claim with Library of Congress’ Equal Employment Opportunity Complaints Office, Simeone said. The office has until mid-May to make a ruling. After that, TerVeer can take his case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC spokeswoman Christine Nazer would not comment on the case.”

Though there are other factors in this case, the invasion of privacy is a very big part of it. This month Maryland became the first state to ban the practice of asking for a job candidate or worker’s social networking password; and Illinois is considering similar legislation. But this was after applicants in Maryland were asked to surrender their user name and password, but a complaint from the ACLU stopped that practice last year. While submitting to a Facebook review is voluntary, virtually all applicants agree to it out of a desire to score well in the interview, according to ACLU legislative director Melissa Coretz Goemann.

But should this “shoulder surfing,” as it has been dubbed, be allowed at all? Well, actually, shoulder surfing was the alternative to the Maryland Department of Corrections just blatantly asking employees for their passwords. But look at the damage caused in this particular incident. “I can’t believe some people think it’s OK to do this,” said Bradley Shear, a Washington D.C.-lawyer. “Maybe it’s OK if you live in a totalitarian regime, but we still have a Constitution to protect us. It’s not a far leap from reading people’s Facebook posts to reading their email. … As a society, where are we going to draw the line?”

There are also a number of colleges turning to social media monitoring companies to offer a “reputation scoreboard” to coaches and send “threat level” warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers. Shear points out that this could be very tricky waters for the schools too. The schools could be found liable if something happens to a student. He cited the University of Virginia Yeardley Love murder case as an example. The school could have been blamed for missing signs that her boyfriend was violent with this kind of access.

It should be noted that this kind of invasion is against Facebook’s Terms of Service. “You will not share your password … let anyone else access your account or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account,” the site says in its policies. Facebook has threatened to “take action to protect the privacy and security of our users” in cases where employers seek passwords.

This case had a lot of factors but it marks the beginning of a very tough time for employees having any privacy from the people they work for.

Photo: 1000 Words /Shutterstock.com

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  • Avodah

    The last few lines of this article are really important. I know it is easier said than done, but if anyone in an interview *ever* asks for this information take a deep breath and say, “It is against Facebook’s terms of service that I give my password to anyone. I don’t feel comfortable breaking this rule.”

    Also, I would advise anyone who is in the process of a job search to simply disable their account. I did this when applying to PhD programs. You can post a status that says “Taking a break from Facebook, contact me by email!” and then remove your account. If an employer asks for your account you can honestly say, “I am not on Facebook”.

    Unfortunately, this is the world we live in, but its important to be smart and protect your privacy (as well as that of your 2000 friends).