What areas of my life are off-limits to an employer?

“Socialist” Country Comparisons

Credit check a condition of employment?

Things brought up in these 2 threads have me wondering what the reach of an employer is, legally speaking, and what people’s perceptions are about employer’s intrusion into the off-hours lives of employees.

People are fired and hired (or not hired) based on pictures they post on myspace, (facebook, etc.), because of their credit history, medical history, and for many other reasons that may not seem germane to the scope of employment.

Are there any areas of a person’s life that are legally off-limits to an employer, or can an employer dig as much as they want into a person’s life?

In your opinion, is there anything that an employer should not be able to investigate concerning an employee or prospective employee? Why or why not?


Thanks for those references, Fear.

Any opinion on an employer’s delving into off-hours behaviours, etc.?

Is it just that most employment is at-will, and so therefore what a person does on off-hours is fair game for an employer to consider?

I can see that there are decent arguments for drug testing & for criminal background checks (even though I might not always agree), but what about looking to see if someone posted a picture of themselves from a party on myspace, then firing them because they looked drunk in the picture?

What about doing a credit check?

What about hiring an investigator to find out who an employee’s social circle is, then firing them because a friend is deemed “inappropriate”?

Since you asked for opinions, here’s mine.

If I’m on the clock or on call, I’m obligated to conform to my employer’s code of conduct.

Otherwise, what I do on MY time is none of their damn business. When asked to work OT, I feel completely justified in responding “Oh, I have plans…”, meaning I plan on NOT BEING AT WORK.

My noms de web are sufficiently removed from my “real” name – I have no fear of any kind of consequence to what I post on boards or on my so-called blog.

What blondebear said. I’ve lived in the US now for about four and a half years and have never managed to get over my disgust at the lack of personal privacy afforded to people. Including in employment. It’s none of my employers damned business what I do in my own time - even if what I do is illegal. As to a credit check, that is surely repulsive as well.

I agree completely, although as I’ve said before I’m more forgiving if the off-hours activity is obviously antagonistic towards the employer, or perhaps even towards the industry. If you work for a TV network, you shouldn’t go around saying that broadcast content is just repulsive trash, or publicly encouraging all and sundry to throw their sets out the window. On the other hand, people do get fired for lawful behavior of no concern to the employer other than personal or moral distaste. Keep in mind, this isn’t limited to the States, but I am appalled at how many people here seem to find this completely acceptable. It’s as if we live in a capitalist authoritarian state. The argument is usually along the lines that if you don’t like something about the policies your employer enforces, you don’t have to stay. But how easy it is to go elsewhere is highly variable, and, usually, questionable. If you don’t agree with drug screening, but nearly every major employer does it, then it’s not easy to find an employer to suit you. Sure, sharecroppers could leave and find themselves another landowner to work for, but what would be the point?

This is interesting to me because of how it can be applied to other areas, specifically to political situations.

Just as many see it as unpatriotic to criticize America’s policies, government, leadership, etc. and they would want the naysayers thrown out of the country (“love it or leave it, hippes!”), employers often see a call for a change in SOP as antagonistic.

Interesting parallel, eh.

FWIW, my own opinion on this is that what I do away from work is my business until and unless it begins to affect my performance on the clock.

I firmly believe that when I am at work, I have hired myself out for that time period, and it would be dishonorable to give my employer less than 100% of my knowledge, mind and body. No beer at lunch, no bhong hit before work, no personal calls on my cel (except to tell someone I will call them back during a break), etcetera. When I am hired, I am there to perform tasks for my employer.

In return, I demand that when I sign out, my time is no longer being paid for, therefore it is mine to do as I wish.

To some degree, my stance on some of these issues limits my employment opportunities, but I have always figured that it was better to live honorably and free, than in comfort as a slave.

This is the key phrase. I dislike having an employer control my off-work behavior. But employment is at-will. I can be fired for no reason. I can be fired for a reason, as long as it’s not a protected one (As noted in above posts).

Some employers are polite enough to put the things they don’t want their employees to do off-duty in the contract. That way, I know whether to take the job in the first place. I’d rather that than get hired, then find out I do something my employer doesn’t like.

But as far as I know (IANAL, etc, etc), nothing except the statutory protections above would prevent an employer from firing me for things I did outside of work. They don’t have to hire me, either, if I do something they find distasteful out of work.

I don’t like an employer regulating what I do outside of work, but like the laws that let them do it if they want to. It protects my right not to work for somebody I disapprove of. It’s a two-way street.

I don’t want to be too enthusiastic about this, but for the most part I agree.

I am a union member, and I look at my contracts with various employers as a good thing, in general. It sets out the rules, and as long as both employer and worker stick to them, there are no problems. If some rules aren’t functioning well, we can look at changing the language in a few years time when the contracts are up for negotiation. If things aren’t working at all, we can agree to arbitrate or renegotiate immediately. State and federal laws (generally) work the same way.

The problem I have is that so many people have no qualms about being drug-tested, credit-checked, etc. that I fear that some day it will become de rigueur (i.e. law), instead of de facto. That will be a sad day for this country, and the world.

I’ve been employed in the U.S. since I was 17 years of age. Other than having one job that said I couldn’t work for the competition I haven’t had any employer delve into my private life. More recently I’ve heard of people being not hired (or fired) for MySpace stuff but is it really that serious? I just don’t really see it as being all that serious a problem.

Though it does happen. I remember a school teacher once told me her boss leaned on her because one of the parents saw her drinking a beer at a restaurant.

My opinion is that a person can choose not to work for another person based on factors about that person not strictly related to job duties, and the opposite is true as well.

Wow, so you’re against forced employment, then? How magnanimous of you.

I’m sure everyone is thrilled that you support the right to work or not work for an employer.

I used to occasionally do pre-employment background checks, and in our more expensive package we would look for incriminating material on the internet in places like facebook and myspace. This level of check was rarely ordered for applicants who were not management level, though we did have one company who did it for all applicants (they did fundraising for religious charities).

To provide some real-world input, can you describe the sorts of things you would look for? Was your organization tasked with any actual screening or winnowing as a result of your findings, or did you just forward everything to the client?

I guess you missed the last part of my post?

The problem I have with the at-will argument is that the worker does have the choice to work, or not work, for a particular company. Just as the company invests a great deal of resources in recruiting and training people, so does the individual invest a great deal of their life, often over years’ time, into the company. The at will argument, in my opinion, trivializes the nature of employment by equating it to a simple shopping decision that can be made, rejected, or modified on the spot. It’s not like deciding to buy the black jeans instead of the blue ones.

Except that at-will is, as I understand it, the law in the united states. The thread asked not just what our opinions are, but what the rules are–and at the moment, they are (with certain exceptions), at will. (IANAL).

I like having a job that I can quit and not worry about being sued if I’m asked to do something I disapprove of. The cost of that is that I can be fired if I do something my boss disapproves of. Fair enough.

As you note, each of us would be throwing away investment made in the employee/company if we decided to end the employer-employee relationship. That’s what, in practice, protects each of us from the other’s capricious decisions.

Can this opinion apply to all US citizens seeking employment?

We did not do any screening, we simply provided the results of several background checks. There was a privately maintained collection of criminal records that was mostly records from counties, state level records (i.e. DPS in states that had them), correctional institute records, and a few cities. It was pretty weak, especially in states that didn’t allow the sale of criminal records in bulk, so we would also do a check based on SSN that would reveal most of the addresses associated with a particular SSN, and then do a request for records from the most recent counties that the person appeared to have lived in (the default cheap search did the last 3, but you could also do 5 or all if you paid more). We also did employment, education, and reference verification. We used to put a lot of work into the employment verifications, where we would try to get hold of managers and other people the person worked with so we could get better information, but we started outsourcing to a company that would just talk to the HR department, which would only get you title and eligibility for rehire 9 times out of 10. Education verification was sometimes with the records departments of schools, but usually with record clearinghouses. Reference verification was just basically calling the people and asking them questions from a list. There was also a pre-employment credit check, which would not give ratings but would show if they had accounts that were past due or defaulted. The most expensive, in-depth report would involve searching for the person’s name and email addresses online and try to find postings and/or pictures associated with that person’s name that had drinking, drug use, violence, weapons, sexual activity, or gang-related data. We did not screen this at all, so we would forward pictures from Myspace of a guy standing in front of a gun rack or playing with obvious firearm replicas in costume, or pictures of guys throwing gang signs or making obvious non-serious “threats” to kick someone’s butt. We had criteria we had to follow and we couldn’t look at something that matched that criteria and exclude it even if common sense indicated it was not important - we had plenty of times where we forwarded screenshots and links of message board postings where they were doing role-playing and talking about wenching or slaying monsters. It was the most fun part of my job, but we didn’t do too many of them.