Employers Want My Social Network Passwords, Is That Legal?
Depending on where you live, the answers may surprise you.
Do your friends or family have your username and password? Should your boss? State laws are changing up how much info your employer has a right to your social media accounts.
It’s no secret, life before the Internet was a lot more private and a lot less instant. Pictures took at least an hour to process. Messages were left on answering machines. And watching a video required rewinding. Social media has taken our day-to-day lives and put usernames and passwords on most everything we access. But who has the right to unlock our personal data? State lawmakers are introducing legislation nationwide to protect individual privacy. When it comes to your job, do employers have the right to request access to your personal world?
Breakdown By State Information
In 2014 the National Conference of State Legislatures saw 28 states introduce or have pending legislation to “prevent employers from requesting your passwords to personal Internet accounts to keep a job.” Source: Link
Those States Include: California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
In 2013 Legislation was introduced and passed in the following 10 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington. (Vermont’s legislation provides for a study only).
In 2012 Legislation passed in 6 states: California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey. But just because restrictions have passed, you still have to be careful. If your employer gave you a phone, computer or other electronic device, that may be in their legal jurisdiction to request information. Best advice on that front is to keep your personal life’s information out of your employers’ reach. Don’t send personal emails through your company email. Digital forensics can uncover a lot of information, so just because you may have hit delete, doesn’t mean it’s gone!
The flip side to all the chatter of protecting employees’ privacy is the desire for employers to know who it is they are hiring and/or to ensure proprietary company information and trade secrets are not being exposed publicly. Social media outlets such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter can unveil a lot about a person. And what you post can be potentially damning to your employment. We live in a world that is under constant surveillance. If you say or do something inappropriate chances are there is a record of it. But even if it’s in a company’s best interest to know the moral thread of who they are hiring, they can’t be bullies either. And it’s not limited to employers. Coaches at some schools require student-athletes to become their Facebook friend or take it a step further with Udiligence, (www.udiligence.com) a software which monitors public posts to help ensure athletic departments stay in compliance.
It is important to be mindful of what you say, do and post online as there maybe a fine line between what is public, private and who is allowed access.
Weighing “Some” Of The PROs and CONs From Different Perspectives.
Employer Perspective — Employers Access to Social Media Passwords & Usernames:
• Verify the information provided is accurate pertaining to employees interests, education level and background
• Can keep track that you’re not bad-mouthing your employer that could be damaging to the company
• Maybe useful if there’s an investigation or suspect sharing of trade secrets or posting confidential employer info
• Could find out information about an employee that would cause the employer to treat the employee differently
• May disclose information to other’s in the office and create unwanted gossip
• Termination based on a digital post could end up being sued for wrongful termination
Employee Perspective — Employees Giving Access to Social Media:
• Can easily see your digital persona and help discover if you would fit into the work environment
• Prior employment can be verified and checked
• You’re able to share your work
• Violation of your privacy
• Employers may discriminate based on information you posted i.e. political affiliations, sexual orientation, disability, race, gender etc.
• You are not free to vent about what’s happening at the office
The Questions To Ask
Is it an invasion of privacy to request usernames & passwords of employees or potential new hires?
How would you be able to determine if a social media post was damaging to the employer?
Is sharing information on social media sites purely freedom of speech and protected under the first amendment?
Do you think if an employer/school wants to be able to track an employee/student would limited access to their account be acceptable?
Should the rules be different if applied to a minor?
Do you think restricting employer access to usernames and passwords is a good or bad thing?
To take it one step further, lawmakers in Delaware are seeking to pass legislature that will determine who has the right to your social media accounts once you are deceased. It would require companies to allow the accounts of the deceased to be accessible by those who inherit their social profiles. This law, known as the “Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act,” also extends to the living who are unable to maintain their accounts. Thereby giving relatives or guardians of disabled individuals control over your social profiles.
The sticking point could be the law may be violating the privacy of the deceased’s living contacts. Dead or alive, it is wise to be careful what you post.