According to recent stories in the media an increasing number of employers are asking job applicants to either provide their login information for Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites, or log onto their private account during the actual job interview. Others ask the applicant to accept a “friend” request from an HR representative or a recruiter.

The following are just a few of the news articles published on this topic recently:

Although several states are considering introducing legislation that would limit a public employer’s access to private information on social networking sites, currently there are no laws preventing an employer (either public or private) from requesting access to an applicant’s social media site – or preventing the employer from refusing to hire an applicant who says no.

What type of information are employers looking for? Many are using a social network site as a replacement for character references and a background check. An individual’s Facebook page can reveal information about alcohol consumption, use of illegal drugs, inappropriate photos, and rants about a former employer, just to name a few potential disqualifiers. An employer has every right to make a no-hire decision based on the foregoing.

However, an individual’s Facebook page (or other social network site) may also reveal information the employer legally cannot factor into the hiring decision – information, for example, regarding an individual’s sexual orientation, age, race, marital status, national origin, disability, and religious beliefs. An employer who has access to this information and then decides not to hire the candidate risks being accused of making the decision for a discriminatory reason.

The best practice is for employers to avoid the temptation to request access to an applicant’s social networking sites. Otherwise, you may get more information than you intended.