Social media passwords increasingly off-limits to hiring veterinarians

Veterinary practices in the process of interviewing prospective employees might want to think twice before requesting their social media passwords.

Illinois recently became the second state to prohibit employers from requiring prospective or current employees to hand over social media passwords or log-in information.

Similar legislation is under consideration in California, New York, and Washington, and the issue is being debated at a higher level with the U.S. Congress considering the proposed Social Networking Online Protection Act and the Password Protection Act of 2012.

So what does this mean for animal hospitals? Keep reading for a quick breakdown of the new law.

What does the law say?
It is now illegal in Illinois and Maryland to ask prospective or current employees for their social media passwords or log-in information. It is also unlawful for companies to discover information through a person’s social media that can’t be found in the public domain.

However, employers are still free to search for and examine any information that can be found in the public domain. This can include social media profiles that have not been concealed using privacy settings.

Why would a veterinary practice ask for passwords?
Veterinary practices want to hire dependable, trustworthy employees who demonstrate professionalism at work and in their personal lives. These employees are going to spend a lot of time around the hospital’s medications and money, and they are essentially going to be the face of the hospital.

Because veterinarians need their employees to live up to such high standards, there could be temptation to get a glimpse behind the curtain by looking at social media profiles - enough so that the veterinarian would ask for the person’s password.

Stith Keiser, business manager for AAHA’s Career Development Program, said he agrees with the new privacy-protection laws, but he can also see why some veterinarians might view social media as a useful way to evaluate employees.

“I also understand why a practice owner may want to know more about you given the intimate workplace of many practices, and the high level of visibility many veterinarians have in the community, especially in small towns,” Keiser said.

How will the bill impact veterinary practices?
In all likelihood, the new bill won’t affect very many veterinary practices, said Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD, from New Jersey.

Lacroix said she doubts that a lot of veterinary practices are requesting passwords as part of their hiring process because veterinarians don’t usually approach the situation with the HR mentality seen in corporate environments.

“In veterinary medicine, interviews have a far more informal, conversational style,” Lacroix said.

Just because there aren’t many practices requesting social media passwords from current and prospective employees, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t investigating publicly viewable Facebook profiles, according to Lacroix. On a broader scale, she said more and more practices are conducting Google searches to find out more about employees.

While Googling job candidates and employees is a common practice in many industries, an article by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that there can still be potential downfalls.

The article discussed a hypothetical situation where an employer finds out that a job candidate has HIV. It is legal to discover that information, but it is illegal to not hire that person because of that discovery. Even if that wasn’t the employer’s true reason for refusing to hire the candidate, the candidate can still present a compelling argument against the employer claiming discrimination.

The main advice for veterinary practices who operate in password-protected states can be summarized as: Only look for candidate information if it is in the public domain, and even then, be aware that you may find out certain things you wish you hadn’t.

Advice for social media users
People on the other side of the hiring table shouldn’t be completely scared away from using social media; they just need to be smart about what information they share.

Lacroix’s words of advice for veterinary students or graduates who are hunting for jobs were, “Don’t put anything up there you don’t want your mother to see.”

She recommended that young professionals create their social media profiles with a conservative approach, remaining careful not to post anything that could be misconstrued.

Keiser also cautioned veterinary professionals and students about what they post online, but he said it is possible to maintain social media profiles that successfully walk the line between personal and professional.

“I have a Facebook and LinkedIn page and for a while I tried to keep my ‘professional’ contacts off of my Facebook, but in this day in age, the line between your professional and personal life easily blurs. I’ve found it just makes more sense to let them go ahead and converge and just be careful about what you post,” he said.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation