In George Orwell’s novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” he crafted a diabolical character that oppressed free thinkers. Big Brother was a deified party leader of a dictatorship that used ceaseless surveillance and mind control to manage society.
Ironically, in 2012, it’s not government that’s invading privacy to manage people, it’s free enterprise.
There’s commotion in Congress and protests on Main Street in opposition to employers who demand that job applicants release their credit reports and Facebook passwords. You can imagine, if you’ve been unemployed for a while, your credit report might look less than stellar. Complete Facebook access might reveal your love life, wacky pictures from your class reunion, your political affiliations and your religious beliefs and disabilities.
A lot of these topics are off limits to employers in job interviews. Here’s a sample of questions that are illegal for companies to ask applicants:
- What is your maiden name?
- Do you have or plan to have children?
- What religion do you practice?
- Do you belong to a social organization or club?
- Do you have a disease?
- Have you ever been arrested?
You get the idea. Employers aren’t allowed to discriminate on the basis of marital status, religious beliefs, social or political affiliation, disabilities and even crime. If an employer has a specific concern about fraud or theft, he or she must ask about those crimes only. An arrest doesn't make you a criminal. You've heard of innocent until proven guilty, right?
Among the rights we consider inalienable is the right to privacy. Seems our freedom of speech is getting some folks in trouble, and their freewheeling approach to social media is inadvertently lifting the veil on their private lives.
What you post on Facebook can be used against you if you grant access to an employer. This year, a Congressional amendment designed to restrict prospective employers from asking for Facebook passwords failed in the House of Representatives. A coalition of 25 civil rights and labor groups are petitioning America’s largest credit reporting firms to stop selling employers access to financial records of job applicants. Some experts argue and have testified to state legislatures that there is no real world evidence to prove a correlation between credit reports and job performance or any employee crime such as stealing or embezzling.
And in a bad economy, like this one, even the most frugal can run into financial trouble. Yet surveys show 60 percent of employers use credit reports in at least some hiring decisions, and some companies won’t even consider unemployed people.
Now here’s a twist. It’s not uncommon for credit reports to be erroneous, and it can take months for you to get one corrected. Meanwhile, you may be rejected from a series of jobs without even knowing it’s your bogus credit history that’s the problem.
According to critics, Facebook is lax about complying with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act. Some reports estimate 5.6 million Facebook subscribers are under 13 years old. What a sophomoric kid posts as a teenager or college student could affect his future employment status. And unpaid credit card accounts could lead to similar repercussions.
In fairness and in the spirit of full disclosure, perhaps the Feds should require the following warnings be acknowledged before these transactions:
CAUTION: the contents of your Facebook page may be viewed by your future employer and may cost you a job.
WARNING: failure to pay credit card and other bills in a timely fashion could prevent you from getting a job.
CAUTION TO JOB APPLICANTS: during your job interview, the employer may ask you questions that are illegal. Should you work for this employer, you could be sexually harassed, illegally terminated, racially profiled, or discriminated against on the basis of age, sex, religion or political affiliation. This employer may subsequently file bankruptcy and fail to meet obligations to you such as salary, wages, benefits and pension. Federal law affords you the full right to take legal action against this employer in the event of illegalities or any breach of contract.
If nothing’s private then everything should be public, and clearly posted. Let all buyers beware.