States Move to Limit Employer Access to Social Media Accounts
Social networking sites have become a popular tool for employers seeking information about job applicants. In the wake of media coverage detailing the conduct of certain employers who were requesting the social media passwords of job applicants, several states, including New York, have seen legislation introduced banning the practice.
On April 13, 2012, New York State Senator Liz Krueger sponsored and introduced a bill that would prohibit employers, as well as their agents or representatives, from requiring employees or job applicants to disclose log-in names, passwords or other means for accessing a personal social media account or device. The legislation would also prohibit employers from discharging, disciplining or otherwise penalizing an employee, or refusing to hire a job applicant, based on his or her refusal to provide such information. Employers found in violation of this law would be subject to a fine of $300.00 for a first offense, and $500.00 for each subsequent offense.
On May 2, 2012, Maryland became the first state to enact legislation that prohibits employers from requesting the social media passwords or accessing the social media of prospective and current employees. Similar legislation is pending in several other states, and efforts are underway to introduce federal legislation that would prohibit employers from asking for the social media passwords of employees or applicants.
Needless to say, the world of social media and networking is changing rapidly. As employers and legislators react to employers’ utilization of information secured from such sites, employers need to exercise caution in using social media to screen applicants. Should an employer choose to do so, it should put in place a clear policy on the use of social media checks and monitor developments in this area of the law.