The Facebook-related firings have begun: A teacher’s aide in Michigan was let go from her job after a school administrator demanded that she turn over her Facebook password and she refused. The aide, Kimberly Hester, is preparing for a legal showdown with the school system.
The incident that prompted administrators to ask Hester for her password occurred last spring. According to local news station WSBT, “She jokingly posted a picture of a co-worker’s pants around her ankles and a pair of shoes, with the caption ‘Thinking of you.’” Hester wasn’t using Facebook during school hours or at a school computer, but her brand of humor got her in hot water at work anyway.
When a parent of a student at the school saw the photo, they complained to the district, and school superintendent Robert Colby told Hester to fork over her password. When Hester refused, Colby wrote a letter Hester provided to WSBT which read, in part, “…in the absence of you voluntarily granting Lewis Cass ISD administration access to you[r] Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly.”
Hester was placed on administrative leave and subsequently suspended. She’s collecting worker’s compensation and is readying her case for an arbitration hearing scheduled next month. “I did nothing wrong,” she tells WSBT. “And I would not, still to this day, let them in my Facebook. And I don’t think it’s OK for an employer to ask you.”
Although Michigan doesn’t have a law prohibiting employers from asking current or prospective workers from demanding a Facebook password, it’s one of several states that is considering such legislation based on recent public outcry about the practice.
Privacy experts say it’s important for employees to have the right to protect their online profiles. “Things employers legally cannot ask are available for them to discover on Facebook,” Aleecia M. McDonald, a privacy researcher and resident Fellow at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, told TIME Moneyland last month.
Even Facebook has come out against so-called shoulder surfing, writing in a message on the site, “This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends.”