Age, Ethics and the Job Search


The PRSA expects its members to adhere to the core values of the public relations profession. Rightfully so, for advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness are all things a profession should hold as fundamental tenants to guide behavior and practice. However provision in conduct can vary through professionals, especially now that the average professional works with five generations in the workplace.
At the PRSA Dallas Communications Summit today, Alison Freeman of WPNT & Associates noticed all generations in the session room. The topic was communication crisis plans in the digital age, and she was quick to point out that generations communicate differently. While this was a tangential comment to the conversation at hand- she did tie it back in by advising that in crisis communication, the younger members in the group had to “put on their big kid pants,” and get rid of the aging vocabulary to be taken seriously and present their message calmly and authoritatively in a crisis.

Like, um, so like, what does that have to do with ethics and junk? Well like, my teach totes mentioned people, like ask for your Facebook passwords in interviews. That’s so not cool.

In non-Beiber speak, what Alison’s mention prompted me to think about was the ethics of employers when asking for Facebook passwords during background checks. Clearly, Alison was giving well received and much appreciated advice on the importance of professionalism in the workplace. But it got me thinking about the Facebook problem seen at an increasing rate that affects several young professionals. Here is Facebook’s official policy on password sharing.

What is alarming about the request from employers to review Facebook profiles has little to do with a need to hide weekend activities and countless cat photographs and a lot to do with your right to privacy. While the right to privacy on the public internet (or Internet for all the generations reading) is still a topic of debate, one thing that is very real is the protection of employees by the government acts such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the American Disabilities Act and other litigation from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

How this is a violation of these acts is not a discussion point I have seen in this debate for privacy on the internet. Most employers, perhaps engaging in the “shoulder surfing” as online activity has become to be known, think this is a harmless way of asking to get to know a candidate more in order to make a more sound decision. An employer certainly wants to make sure their decision is grounded and the candidate fits in with the culture and is an upstanding professional worthy of representing the company. This argument should be countered with the competition that multiple generations in the workforce has created. In recent years, the trend in the economy has shown that people stay in the workforce longer and younger generations jump jobs at a faster turnover rate than older generations. According to this HR consultant- AARP has made advances in research: older people work harder and better. There are many myths that are being propelled even further of younger generations that seem to be founded by information found on social media profiles.
Without bringing the underlying issue of ageism in the workplace into account, there is still a level of legal protection of privacy to which professionals are entitled. From signing into a personal profile such as Facebook, even by browsing a person’s friends list, some topics that are unethical and unenforceable by law such as asking age or marital status become readily apparent. One should be aware of these rights and also, be prepared if any feelings of coercion in a background check. The Ladder.com has an excellent article on what to say if you do not feel comfortable sharing passwords found here.

This blog post is meant to spark an interest in rights as a job seeker, and a very real issue with managing generations in the workplace. I try to keep my personal life separate from my professional life, but anyone that meets me knows that I am an open book. If you want more access to my Facebook account, you just might see too many cat jokes and memes to take me seriously. 

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