As a social media use and competition for jobs increase, people are becoming more concerned with their online image. Recently, the media focused on employers gaining applicants' login information to access their social media accounts. Many states (at least seven so far) have decided that it is necessary to pass legislation protecting job seekers from overzealous employers. I've heard reports that at least 35 states have pending legislation.
Despite this push from state governments, I'm not sure that the hype is necessary. For starters, although I've had inappropriate questions asked during interviews, no one has gone this far. Secondly, I expect that all potential employers will Google (or Bing) my name, and with the exception of my Facebook, I have a public online presence that should keep them busy. Finally, even if a potential employer accessed my login information, there would be nothing for them to find.
In any event, the news stories outraged people, and the state governments acted. As of late April, Washington became the latest state to adopt legislation (SB 5211) that prevents employers from gaining access to social networking account logins.
Why Do We Need These Bills?
perspective. Beyond bad public relations, from a legal standpoint, looking at someone's private social networking account could expose an employer to information that it cannot legally use in the hiring process (religion, sexual orientation, family status, etc.). Why would an employer risk liability just to spy on applicants? In any event, legislatures saw applicant privacy as a big enough problem to do something about it.
These bills have received much criticism from lawyers and, more recently, wall street. Wall Street is concerned that it will be unable to investigate social networking accounts even if there is a legitimate need. For example, securities regulators worry that social media could create new channels for Ponzi schemes, and fighting those schemes will be harder if companies cannot monitor what employees are pitching to investors.
For a more detailed analysis of social media password laws generally, check out this Littler Report.
What Is SB 5211?
The bill carves out an exception if (1) the employer requests the information in the context of an investigation (2) for the limited purpose of ensuring compliance or investigating unauthorized transfer of the employer's proprietary information (3) that is undertaken in response to receipt of information about the employee's activities on a social networking website and (4) the employer does not request login information.
The bill also excludes (1) social networks intended "primarily to facilitate work-related exchange" and (2) login information for work accounts.
The bill provides a private right of action to employees or applicants whose employers violate the statute.