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Second State Outlaws Employer Requests for Employees’ Facebook Passwords

Employers across the country are using social media sites as part of their hiring processes, but when they ask applicants and employees for their passwords, they may have gone too far.  In an effort to safeguard privacy rights in the “social media age,” Illinois joined Maryland in passing a law prohibiting employers from either requesting or requiring the passwords of current and prospective employees.  The California State Assembly just passed a password law and it is currently awaiting the signature of the Governor.  Other states are considering similar laws.

The Maryland and Illinois laws differ in their application.  Maryland’s law is broad and protects current and prospective employees from disclosing any user name, password or other means to access a “personal account or service” through an electronic communications device.  “Personal account or service” includes social media accounts, personal email accounts, and other password-protected accounts and services.  Electronic communications device includes computers, telephones, personal digital assistants, and other similar devices. 

The Illinois law is narrower.  It protects passwords for “social networking services” which are Internet-based services that allow people to: 1) construct a public or semi-public profile in the system, 2) create a list of users whom they share a connection on the system, 3) and where they can view and navigate their list of connections.  This definition restricts the application of the law to social media sites, not email accounts or other electronic accounts.

Although there are exceptions to both laws, employers should not ask their current and prospective employees for passwords to personal accounts as a rule.  All other employers should remember: your state may be next.  Finally, even if no law exists, many employees view such a request as an invasion of privacy.  What will such a request do to the work environment you strive to create?

Brody and Associates regularly advises its clients on all labor management issues and provides various training programs.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.