The Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) has
recently weighed in on the legality of prospective employers asking job applicants
for their Facebook passwords, a practice that has garnered media attention
after the Toronto Star published an article on March 20, 2012, entitled “Would You
Reveal Your Facebook Password for a Job?”
The article detailed how a job applicant had become a finalist for a job with a
police service and was asked by the interviewer to reveal his Facebook password.
Though the applicant initially refused, he ended up capitulating out of fear
that he would not seem interested in the job if he did not reveal the
password. The article further noted that the practice of asking job applicants
for Facebook passwords is gaining popularity in the U.S., where unemployment
rates are high in many areas and individual job-seekers may feel particularly
The legality of such a practice in Ontario is uncertain.
Though the Toronto Star article states that there are no laws in Ontario
prohibiting employers from asking job applicants for their Facebook passwords,
others disagree. The Commission communicated its position on the issues,
somewhat ironically, through its own Facebook page.
In this age of digital communication, charities and
not-for-profits, as employers, need to be aware of the laws, as they develop
with respect to social media issues. What information employers may and may not
request from job applicants is and will continue to be a relevant issue.
B. THE POSITION OF THE ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
The Commission takes the position that in asking job
applicants for their Facebook passwords, employers could be exposing themselves
to claims of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the
This liability arises from subsections 5(1) and 23(2) of the Code, which
provide as follows:
5. (1) Every
person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination
because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship,
creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family
status or disability.
23. (2) The
right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is
infringed where a form of application for employment is used or a written or
oral inquiry is made of an applicant that directly or indirectly classifies or
indicates qualifications by a prohibited ground of discrimination.
The Commission’s position is that a Facebook profile could
potentially contain very personal information on any of the prohibited grounds
of discrimination in employment listed under subsection 5(1). As such, in
asking for a job applicant’s Facebook password, an employer is asking a
question that potentially “directly or indirectly classifies or indicates
qualifications by a prohibited ground of discrimination”. This is the case even
if the employer did not intend to discriminate, as inappropriate interview
questions that relate to prohibited grounds under the Code can give rise to an
inference of discrimination.
Although the Commission has taken a
position on whether asking a job applicant for his or her Facebook password, it
is important to note that this position is influential but not binding on the
Ontario Human Rights Tribunal or the courts. Therefore, the Tribunal or the
courts may not necessarily agree with the position taken by the Commission on
this issue. Nevertheless, it seems more prudent for employers to refrain from
asking such questions, if not for fear of violating the rights the job
applicants, then at least out of respect for their privacy. Interestingly,
Facebook has also weighed in on this issue and has urged employers not to
demand passwords because it violates applicants’ privacy and may give rise to
claims of discrimination.
From the perspective of job applicants,
this issue serves as a familiar warning to be careful about what you post on
Facebook and what information you make available to the general public through
such social media sites. The Commission reminds applicants that the
“information that they make available to the general public on-line may reveal
details about themselves that could be used for discriminatory purposes.
Prospective employers and others (prospective landlords, educators, etc.) will
also have access to online information.”