Can companies demand employees’ Facebook passwords? Not in these states

As many organizations are still developing and fine-tuning their social networking policies for employees, here’s one practice that’s becoming illegal for some companies: 

Requiring employees or job applicants to reveal their Facebook log-in information.

Starting January 1, laws in California and Illinois went into effect that prohibit employers from demanding workers reveal usernames and passwords for social networking sites as a condition of employment. Similar laws in Michigan, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware went into effect last year.

While it’s not clear what percentage of employers have social networking policies in place that demand applicants or workers turn over their passwords, the issue first received widespread attention early last year when Facebook announced it had seen a “distressing increase” in reports of employers trying to gain “inappropriate access” to employees’ accounts.

In response to those reports, members of Congress proposed the Password Protection Act of 2012, which would have prohibited companies from accessing employees’ private information stored on outside servers. After that bill failed to pass, some states took up the issue on their own.

Protect social networking privacy

Whether or not they’re in one of the states with a law protecting Facebook passwords, organizations may want to include a clause in their social networking policy preventing management from demanding access to personal accounts.

The practice is certainly bad for employee morale and the company’s reputation, and legal issues can occur even in states without one of those laws. In one court case from last year, an employee sued for a violation of privacy after her boss forced a co-worker she had friended on Facebook to log into the site and show him the employee’s page.

A judge refused to dismiss the case, ruling that the employee’s right to privacy may have been violated because she never expected her supervisor to be able to read the content she had posted to the social networking site.

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