Friday, March 15, 2013

Employers Violation of Individual Privacy

Something I find bizarre is that Americans tend to accept impositions placed upon us by businesses but we scream bloody murder at impositions made upon us by government.

I was reflecting on this recently when my new job required rather typical employment screening, namely drug screens and a criminal background check. Now, this didn't really inconvenience me personally, my records free and I have no desire to do drugs, but it struck me as something that a business really shouldn't have any right to do.

On a really crude level we can introduce a lot of blather about free contract to justify this. However, realistically, if I did decide to object to this I can simply expect exactly the same treatment from any other employer. If my talents don't tend towards self-employment, and the majority of people's talents don't, this gives any employer practice the potential to be coercive; especially if it becomes standard practice.

How is this coercion, with the threat of unemployment, justifiable? I can see a narrow business need argument, if a position required me to be on call at any time or I was guilty of a crime that raised particular concerns for that position (or something like theft or fraud from a previous employer) but even within these lines why is an employer's right to gather this information unlimited? This isn't even getting into nonsense like firing someone for what they have on their Facebook page or firing a teacher for a previous job in adult film (heard this on morning radio; employer's certainly shouldn't have a right to discriminate based on previous employment).

The rights we permit employers in this country seem to me absurd on their face. They completely ignore power relationships implicit in the employee-employer relationship. Employers should have no right to care what I do in my free time, nor should they have any right to inquire into my past beyond what is directly pertinent to my job. Regarding criminal background checks, at a minimum businesses should be restricted to inquiring into specific criminal charges that are pertinent to the job (like fraud or theft from a previous employer) and even then, since people change there should be a limit on how far back they can go. Drug testing should also be limited, why do we permit this indignity as a matter of course for getting a job? If someone's performance suffers they can be fired for that; a separate test regarding drugs should be out of bounds.

I've heard even more absurd impositions from hospitals and admitting practices. Things like invasive inquiries about personal life, such as marriage status and other bits of personal information. What gives them the right?

Why do we not object to this but we freak out about criminal background checks on firearms? It's crazy.

I'll probably write letters to my representatives and the consumer protection bureau. I don't think it will do anything but I think we have an obligation to speak up against injustice.

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