Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

February 28, 2008 - by: Julie Elgar 6 COMMENTS

Here is an interesting one. Earlier this week, the mayor of a small town in Oregon was fired after the town learned that there were pictures on the Internet of their esteemed leader posing in front of a fire truck in a black lace bra and panty set. The photographs were taken before she was elected and were posted on MySpace by a family member who wanted to help improve the mayor’s social life. But the mayor left the photographs up after she was elected, and her opponents found this to be inappropriate. So she lost her job.

The ouster raises an interesting point: Can/should an employer check out employees or prospective employees on the Internet? After all, there is wealth of information on the world wide web. On the other hand, there is a lot of information the employer just doesn’t want to know. After all, just what should human resources do after discovering photographs of a job candidate doing keg stands on the employee’s MySpace page? Does it bring forth any issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act? What if a current employee’s page shows her doing bong hits or the page contains racially or sexually offensive content?

While some states have laws saying that an employee can’t be fired for off-duty conduct, most don’t. It looks like this is going to be something that the courts will have to sort out over time. In the meantime, I’m hoping that I don’t have to see any other elected officials in their underwear…..

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1 ACU Frank
10:52:23, 29/02/08

You have to admit, it could help make the presidential debates at least a LITTLE more interesting…

2 Penny
23:36:32, 05/03/08

While I respect employers for wanting their employees to be professional at all time — I feel there is a line to be crossed. Employees should be allowed at least a modicum of privacy in regards to their personal life. I would like for people to separate myspace/facebook pages, which are used for social networking, from anything business related. Perhaps we need a new kind of website, purely for business networking. I can’t control the pictures that my friends put up from my days living in the greek house, and I certainly wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see them and not hire me based on something that occurred in my past, that has nothing to do with my life now.

3 Grace
21:27:40, 07/03/08

I am fairly liberal, but I do believe that it is necessary and prudent for employers to check out the internet for information on certain candidates and existing employees. Yes, it’s an invasion of privacy, but I think that if there is an expectation that the employee or the candidate must adhere to a certain code of conduct, checking out their internet profile is a reasonable step for an employer, and the individual should expect that this may happen.

I am an attorney, and I know that my firm would be horrified if there were pictures of me on the internet in my underwear. (I would be mortified, but that’s my own shyness talking.) I am represented to clients as a knowledgeable, responsible, well-trained attorney and a specialist in my area – any information that undercuts that representation is deleterious to the firm, so I shouldn’t do anything off duty that would damage that image, much less post photographic evidence of my poor judgement. Similarly, high level executives, high profile individuals, and law enforcement officials should also expect that their “off duty” conduct to be monitored, and that they may face sanction or censure from their employers if there is documentation of conduct that would be damaging to performing their jobs.

However, I don’t think it is fair or reasonable to hold a legal assistant or paralegal to the same standard of conduct as the attorneys in a firm. I viewed the MySpace page of one of our paralegals last year, and while there was nothing troubling there, I wouldn’t want to see a similar page from one of my attorney colleagues.

Penny, you should try LinkedIn – it is a great website for business networking. One of my clients recently referred to it as MySpace for grown-ups. (

4 Penny
12:35:02, 09/03/08

Thanks for the link, Grace. I will check it out.

This trend of looking at potential employees personal lives on the internet worries me the more I think about it. Once those picture are up and tagged with your name, they will be up there for a long time. Ten years ago, it would be unlikely for high school behavior to come up in a job interview. Now the employer can just look online and see everyones entire past. There have been many people who have completely re-invented themselves after high school. I really don’t think that pictures that have been snapped on a camera phone should be taken into consideration. I actually think it might create an even bigger division of economic classes.

I am from an economically depressed area, and there are a lot of poor, undereducated people. Many of these kids spend a lot of time during their high school years drinking, smoking, experimenting. Parents figure that they did it in high school, so it’s fine for kids to drink. Some parents have policies about drinking at their house so they don’t hurt others. This leads to a lot of stupidity, and a lot of pictures of embarrassing things.

The fact is that these kids are already at a disadvantage. If they go to college, they usually go to a state university. Maybe while they are there, they decide “hey, my grades are pretty good, I should apply to law school.” They won’t get into a top tier law school, because they won’t apply because they can’t afford it. They don’t always get the top teacher recommendations because their communication skills aren’t as developed as the students who come from a wealthier background.

And after all of that, they are going to go to a job interview and find out that they won’t be hired because of some pictures on facebook from 7 years ago? I know that potential employers are more likely to write off the same photos and behavior if the individual is part of a greek organization or looks similar to their current employees.

Also, everyone knows that the behavior isn’t that different — it’s the fact that it’s now caught on tape and put on the internet. How many of the employers can actually say that they never were drunk at a frat party, or they never went to a concert or sporting event and painted their face. Sure these activities are unprofessional. But they happened in the past. People aren’t using film anymore when they have digital images.

Do employers think it’s odd if someone just doesn’t have a facebook? Because I rarely sign in anyway.

5 Patrick Fanelli
13:20:43, 10/03/08

I had posted a very similar note at although I think that there is one point being missed here. While an employer probing into an employee’s private life may be crossing a line, we need to remember that anything posted on the internet is no longer a completely “private” part of one’s life. The internet is very public.

A person who posts pictures of themselves on their facebook or myspace site should not be upset that someone views them or uses them to make a judgment about them. Granted, if those judgments involve unlawful discrimination on the basis of a disability, etc., then perhaps we are talking about something actionable, but absent that, I think an employer has every right to seek out that information and use it as they see fit.

6 Stephanie
14:35:06, 15/03/08

As much as it would be nice to say, “private life is private, work is work,” we have to remember that we’re a far cry from happening to see a co-worker outside of work in passing when it comes to the internet.

MySpace really is not a good idea if you want to do things not involving promoting your band, your standup act, an upcoming movie or writing bad poetry that you share amongst your 15-year-old friends. If you want to get a grown-up job, MySpace and FaceBook need to go away immediately. You need to realize you’ve just gone from one co-worker seeing you outside a seedy strip joint (and having to explain why they were there as well) to having anyone with internet access able to see the photos you just HAD to post of your wild and crazy night.

You also have to remember that those photos were public – how seriously would their mayor be taken at a conference when everyone realized she was the underwear mayor? Do you really think she’d be taken seriously by businesses the town wanted to attract? Do you think any proposals she had for the state would be taken seriously? It’s no different when you’re needing to present a budget proposal after everyone in the company has seen your photos on your MySpace showing off your 3rd place finish in the amateur stripper night…

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