Not So Social: States Start Limiting Employer Access to Social Media

woman holding up social butterfly t-shirt

Social media has rapidly become an essential part of our societal fabric, both personally and professionally. And the line between those two worlds that we once understood to be hard and fast is rapidly being erased.

Most of us came to understand that Facebook was ‘personal’, LinkedIn was ‘professional’ and perhaps Twitter was somewhere in the middle. Of course, today, the Big 3 social networks are just the tip of the iceberg, now that we have Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube and more.

Employers know that employees have an innate right to privacy, both before they are hired and after they join the team. But where do you draw that line?

When it comes to social media, some states and localities are rapidly moving to enact laws and ordinances that require employers to view employee social media accounts as private.

The most recent state to join this movement is Virginia, which has passed a law that becomes effective on July 1, 2015 prohibiting employers from requiring prospective or current employees to provide login information for their social media accounts.

This closely mirrors a similar bill that has been proceeding in Pennsylvania, although the Virginia legislation goes a step further and also prohibits employers from using employee login information to access their social media accounts if the information is accidentally disclosed or made available to the employer.

However, like most of these laws, the Virginia statute does not prohibit a prospective or current employer from viewing employee social media content that is publicly shared. However, this definition generally is framed in the context of information being viewed in the ‘public domain’ so this does raise some interesting questions.

For example, if a hiring manager is Facebook friends with a current job applicant, may the hiring manager review information made available by the applicant to her or his Facebook friends and consider it in the context of evaluating the applicant for the position? Probably not.

Further complicating things is that digital information can be added to the public domain today and removed tomorrow, rendering it very difficult to say what is and is not in the public domain at any given time.

Bottom Line: Asking potential or current employees for their social media logins is a bad idea everywhere and an illegal idea in an increasing number of jurisdictions.

Beyond that, a narrow and limited approach to ‘getting to know’ a potential employee through their social media presence should be the rule, not the exception.

Finally, stay tuned as this field continues to evolve with what will certainly amount to a slew of court cases and future laws as we all attempt to navigate the emerging social media landscape as it relates to the employer-employee relationship.

Selected Sources:

Image Credit: linkhumans (Flickr @ Creative Commons)


Sign Up Today
for our Newsletter

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap