Prospective Employers Want What? …No Thanks!

According to recent news reports, some employers are now demanding Facebook passwords for background check purposes.  Are you kidding me?!?!  Facebook responded yesterday in this story by the Associated Press, cautioning about the ethical and legal ramifications of this practice:

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook is warning employers not to demand the passwords of job applicants, saying that it’s an invasion of privacy that opens companies to legal liabilities.

The social networking company is also threatening legal action against those who violate its long-standing policy against sharing passwords.

An Associated Press story this week documented cases of job applicants who are being asked, at the interview table, to reveal their Facebook passwords so their prospective employers can check their backgrounds.

In a post on Friday, Facebook’s chief privacy of policy officer cautioned that if an employer discovers that a job applicant is a member of a protected group, the employer may open itself up to claims of discrimination if it doesn’t hire that person.

“As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job,” wrote Erin Egan. “And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.”

Not sharing passwords is a basic tenet of online conduct. Aside from the privacy concerns, Facebook considers the practice a security risk.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said that the company doesn’t think employers should be asking applicants for their passwords because “we don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

“While we do not have any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers, we look forward to engaging with policymakers and other stakeholders, to help better safeguard the privacy of our users,” he said.


I’m not a chronic Facebook user by any means (I’m lucky if I log on once a month), but if an employer asked me for my password, I’d have serious reservations about working there.  Not that I have anything to hide (pictures of my daughters and the fact that I “like” the Denver Broncos aren’t likely to end up in my employment file…unless the boss is a Raiders fan).

But what about my friends?  Don’t I have an ethical obligation to protect their privacy?  It’s bad enough that Facebook seems to change its privacy policy every few weeks, requiring users to log on and make sure their privacy settings are up to snuff.  Now people after worry about their friends’ employers scoping out their Facebook pages?

Maybe my anti-Facebook friends aren’t so crazy to shun social media after all…


Dollar and a Dream…But Then What?

Tonight’s Mega Millions jackpot is $241 million.  So naturally, I couldn’t resist buying into the office pool with my colleagues.  To be honest, I don’t play the lotto much, but I always buy into the office pools out of fear that the group will win without me (kind of like this poor fellow from Albany).

So I’ve been thinking — what happens when a large group of colleagues wins the lottery?  Is there a mass exodus of people quitting their jobs?  If so, what happens to the employer?  (Check out this entry on The Business Ethics Blog by Chris MacDonald, Ph.D, which raises several interesting ethical questions surrounding the ramifications of workplace lottery pools ).

More interestingly, what happens when the employer is a group of professionals?  I’m sure people don’t want or expect their doctors and lawyers to quit suddenly and leaving them high and dry.  Imagine the chaos that would ensue if the local hospital’s ER staff won the lotto and quit their jobs en masse.  For attorneys, that’s where Rule 1.3(b) of New York’s Rules of Professional Conduct comes into play — attorneys simply cannot neglect matters entrusted to them.

Thus, rest assured, that my colleagues and I will be at work bright and early tomorrow morning, even if…I mean when…we win tonight’s Mega Millions jackpot!

(P.S.  I’m Jake Lamme.  I’ll post a bio soon so that you can get to know me a bit.  Thanks to Tom for inviting me to think ethically on Think Ethically!)

Link Ethically

1. Would it be ethical to use a nuclear weapon, in violation of an anti-nuclear weapons pact, if you used it against a country without nuclear weapons?  This is a ramped-up version of the historical scenario discussed at this interesting blog post at Ethics for Adversaries.  A related question is whether use of the weapon would, on a gross basis, result in fewer lives loss.  Do we care if the lost lives are evenly distributed between nations?

2. Business ethics for superheros.  At the “Superheros Guide to Heroism!,” which I have so far found to be quite a brilliant blog.  To wit:

For example, if a superhero fights the head of an evil corporation, there is no conflict.  However, if that hero holds stock in a rival corporation, there’s a problem.  Are we sure the hero is fighting the corporation simply because it is evil?  Or is it possible the hero is fighting to make money?

New York State Bar Association – Committee on Professional Ethics Opinions

Here are some of the key NYSBA Committee on Professional Ethics opinions discussing the types of marketing that transactional attorneys are likely to engage in on the internet:

1. Ethics Opinion No. 848 – deals with newsletters and blog posts.

2. Ethics Opinion No. 873 – offering a prize for joining an attorney’s social networking site.   This might not be quite as sleazy as it first sounds.

3. Ethics Opinion No. 877 – permissible material on a firm’s website.

4. Ethics Opinion No. 888 – links to other businesses on law firm website.

5. Ethics Opinion No. 897 – use of “Groupon” and similar coupon opportunities.  For what type of service is this a good marketing strategy?

6. Ethics Opinion No. 899 – interaction in real-time online, as in a chatroom.

7. Ethics Opinion No. 842 – deals with storing data in the “cloud.”  Not marketing, but certainly topical.

There certainly may be others, and as I locate them I will post them.

Welcome to Think Ethically

Welcome to Think Ethically. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethical rules governing attorney marketing in New York. It’s written by attorneys trying to live by those rules (and with them) while trying to grow their practices and represent their clients. This blog will also explore the foundations of ethics in general, and will search for lessons in ethical failures in society at large.

Thanks for joining us.