As a professional, you've taken the steps needed to better manage your social media accounts and your reputation. You've adjusted your privacy settings, limited who to share information with, and been cautious about what you post online. Yet, many employers believe that when it comes to an employee's social media privacy, they are exempt.
Until recently, your current or potential employer could ask for your username and password to access your personal social media accounts, whether or not you accessed those accounts from work. The employer may want to know if you're sharing proprietary information, have scandalous skeletons in your closet that could expose a company to legal liability, or other information – relevant or not relevant – to its business. And in many cases, you could lose your job if you didn't comply. However, in a handful of states and more to come, this practice is now illegal.
New Jersey became the most recent state to prohibit employers from requiring applicants or employees from disclosing their personal social media account information or forcing them to give the employer access to their accounts. Under the state's Social Media Privacy Law, which went into effect on December 1, the only caveat is that employers may conduct any investigation into private social media accounts if it's proven a worker is transferring confidential business information through these sources.
According to the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the bill “finds the ‘right balance' between protecting workers' privacy and preserving employers' interests.”
New Jersey is the 12th state in the nation to institute a social media privacy law. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that legislation has been introduced or is pending in 36 states. Ten states, including Arkansas and Illinois, have enacted legislation in 2013.
In Georgia, H.B. 117, which prohibits an employer from requesting an employee or potential employee's social media account username and password, and H.B. 149, which also prohibits an employer from taking adverse action against an employee for refusing to disclose social media information, were introduced in early 2013. Both bills have been carried over for future sessions. For a full list on where each state stands in regards to social media privacy law, visit the NCSL website.
As social media privacy laws balance the rights of both employees and employers, there is a level of responsibility for both parties to ensure the law is beneficial to all. For employees, anything you post on social media could still have ramifications for your career. For instance, if you publicly spill a company secret on Facebook, you can still be fired for your actions.
On the flip side, companies must be sure to initiate social media policies that incorporate their states' laws. Said Lisa Fried-Grodin, a privacy lawyer in Morris Plains, N.J. to NJBIZ, “Not only do you need to have a policy, but you need to make sure that it's reflecting the current developments in the law. You're in dangerous territory if you attempt this on your own without the advice of an employment attorney.”
While Georgia currently does not have a statewide social media privacy law on the books, it's important that you understand your rights when it comes to your career and your social media usage. If you have been required to provide your employer with access to your accounts, contact the employment lawyers at Barrett & Farahany, LLP, LLP in Atlanta for guidance in this situation.