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States Blocking Access to Employees’ Online Posts

Employers prohibited from demanding access to personal social media accounts.

By University Alliance on December 16, 2014
States Limit Employers’ Online Snooping

State lawmakers across the nation are delving into privacy- and technology-driven questions about access to employees’ social media accounts. In 2014, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin passed legislation prohibiting employers from requiring that employees or job applicants provide usernames and passwords to personal social media accounts.

“A trend among employers right now is to invade the online privacy of potential hires and employees,” state Rep. John Trebilcock, who sponsored the Oklahoma legislation, said in a statement.

The state law also establishes civil penalties of up to $500 per violation and prohibits employers from disciplining or firing workers who refuse to provide access to their personal accounts, such as Twitter or Facebook. Employers can’t refuse to hire an applicant solely on the candidate’s refusal to provide account access.

However, as is the case with legislation passed by other states, Oklahoma employers can require employees to provide passwords and usernames for accounts accessed as part of their job duties. Employers also can seek access to personal social media accounts if employees log in via company-owned computer networks or information systems, or as part of an investigation into possible employee misconduct.

Additionally, the law states that employers can’t be “held liable … for not reviewing an employee’s personal online social media accounts.”

In recent years, social media has played a growing role in the recruitment and hiring process. A 2013 survey by the recruitment technology developer Jobvite found that more than 90% of human resources professionals review candidates’ social media profiles before making a hiring decision. Nearly half of survey respondents had reassessed an applicant as a result of social media posts.

The new Louisiana law, for example, does not restrict employers from accessing or using information that workers or candidates post publicly on social networks.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), more than half of U.S. states are considering legislation to curb access to personal social media accounts by public- and private-sector employers. Some of the measures would extend protections to college students

Some businesses contend they need access to their employees’ social media accounts in order to protect against intellectual property theft and other wrongdoing, the NCSL noted.

Similar legislation also has been proposed at the federal level, although the Social Networking Online Protection Act has stalled since being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February 2013. 

Category: 2014 Headlines