Fired over Facebook

Social media sites have become a part of our lives in various ways. Many people often log onto these sites multiple times during the day to update their personal information and to observe the other updates made by friends or people within their network. Because many people provide so much about themselves on their social media pages, many employers feel the need to conduct interviews in person, over the phone, and through a person’s social media page such as Facebook. A similar situation occurred when Kimberly Hester, a grade school teacher’s aide in Michigan, was fired for refusing to hand over her Facebook password to her supervisors. Hester posted a picture of a co-workers’ shoes and pants bunched around her ankles on Facebook in April 2011 with the caption, “Thinking of you.” She posted the picture in jest, but a parent who’s on her Facebook friend list saw the image and reported it to Frank Squires Elementary where Hester was employed, prompting the investigation.

Teachers have gotten in trouble for Facebook status messages before, but in Hester’s case, it’s her refusal to hand over her password that actually got her fired. One of the supervisors from the Lewis Cass Intermediate School District (ISD), the regional service center for education in Michigan, even wrote her a letter when she refused to give them her password for the third time. Part of this letter read: “… in the absence of you voluntarily granting Lewis Cass ISD administration access to your Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly.” Lewis Cass wanted to put Hester on a paid administrative leave before they fired her, but she chose to go on an unpaid leave because she believes she did nothing wrong. She plans to use the letter she received to sue the school district.

This has become a major issue lately but the question of privacy has been raised. I personally feel that providing an employer with your password is an invasion of privacy but I do feel that if employers felt that there was a reasonable threat against a child or co-worker that the employee refusing to turn over a password deserves to be terminated. With the case involving Hester, I don’t see any real threat besides the school district’s curiosity about the photo. I also do not see how the School district would have fund what they were looking for by obtaining Hester’s password because she could’ve just deleted the photo and all posts on it. The practice of employers invading employees’ personal space has been growing at such an alarming rate, that Facebook released its official stance on the issue, telling its users that they have the right not to comply with their employers’ request. Several politicians including Michigan’s own State Representatives Aric Nesbitt and Matt Lori have been pushing for bills that will make the breach of privacy an illegal practice. The House of Representatives recently rejected a legislation that would protect your passwords from employers’ prying eyes.

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