Should Physician Practices Ask Potential Hires for Facebook Login Info?

March 26, 2012

A recent article raises the question as to how much social media screening is appropriate for potential and existing employees.

These days, many, if not most, medical practices have some kind of social-media policy that guides employees on what they can or cannot say about their employer in the public Internet forum. We also know that most practices, like good employers, do some kind of Web-based research on employee candidates before hiring them. 

But when we got word that some employers are taking this measure one step further, we were a bit shocked.

As it turns out, a small but growing number of employers are actually going so far as to ask potential hires to share social networking login and password information. According to an article published last week by the New York Times, some companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a person’s social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around. And in today’s tough job market, many of the people interviewed said they felt they would have no other choice than to give up such information if it meant being employed.

The article raises some questions for physician practices, though we haven’t heard of any who actually went so far as to ask prospective employees for their Facebook login information. In today’s era of social media use, to what extent should a practice monitor its employees’ actions? Should potential employees’ social media accounts be screened? Or should a practice just stick to handing out a social media policy?

“Asking anyone for any password for any account is entirely inappropriate,” physician Russell Faust, a Practice Notes blogger and healthcare consultant, told Physicians Practice. “As a potential employee, if asked for any of my passwords, I might be persuaded to provide my Facebook password if the requester provides the login for their bank account in exchange.”

However, Faust said he feels that “any public information, whether in print, or online, is fair game for a potential employer to screen.”

“As a potential employer, I feel that it is okay to do an online search of someone's name,” said Faust. “After all, their personal brand in the digital world is at least as representative of their personality as the image that they present on their CV or resume.”

Practice Notes blogger and orthopedic surgeon C. Noel Henley agreed that asking for potential employees’ login information is inappropriate.

“If our office manager suggested we start doing this, I'd be very wary,” Henley told Physicians Practice. “Just because people share things today on Facebook instead of 1) talking on the phone, 2) sending letters and e-mails, 3) talking to the media/press, and 4) talking to people in person, doesn't mean it's any less of a violation of privacy to ask for access to an online account.”

Henley did, however, say it is reasonable for a medical practice to create a policy outlining what it expects from employee discussions on social media.

Faust said such a policy should be mandatory.

“Every employer should have a clear social media policy that clarifies expectations, and specifies boundaries and possible consequences for disregarding those rules,” he said.

Does your practice have a social media policy for employees? Post your thoughts below.