I was thinking about this history when I read this Atlantic collection of interviews from employers about the "mistakes" job seekers make. "Sanitize [your] net presence," chides one interviewer. "Those drunken spring break pictures have got to go." We've all heard stories of people getting into trouble because of what they wrote in their blogs or because of what they do in their spare time, but the unapologetic nature of this interviewer still took me aback. It's not simply the absurdity of an employer thinking that what a candidate did on spring break has any bearing on their fitness. It's the fact that they were even looking at that candidate's Facebook page in the first place. I mean, I find the idea of my mom reading my status creepy, let alone my boss. (Hi, Mom!)
But, the argument goes, if you choose to make your life public on the Net, don't employers get to use that against you? The problem is in most cases, the offending revelations have nothing to do with the employee's fitness. It's that they had the audacity to post a photo of themselves in a bikini, or they used the word fuck in their blog, or they felt they had to support one candidate or another. In other words, the employer is seeking to get their unruly workforce to adhere to a moral code which goes far beyond the concerns of the workplace.
These days it's illegal to make religious decisions for your employees, either by requiring that they practice a certain faith or by prohibiting them from adhering to another. We recognize such efforts as wrong-headed, patronizing, unfair. What we need now is to extend this understanding to the secular choices as well. And HR Dude? Quit being such a creeper.