Social Media Privacy Laws Provide Protection for Employers and Employees

Social Media Privacy Laws

Do you know your social media privacy rights as they pertain to your workplace?

They will be different depending on where you live because the laws vary from state to state. Utah recently became the fifth state to put into effect such a law that governs the rights of both employees and employers. Legislation has also been introduced or is pending at the Federal level and in 35 states.

This has become a hot topic because more than 90 percent of employers use social media sites to help screen applicants. Since applicants have the ability to determine their online privacy settings to decide what is out there for public viewing, some employers have asked for access to their private social media content to get the real picture.

In addition, employers contend that having access to social media accounts of employees allows them to protect sensitive company information such as trade secrets and financial figures. Employees argue that the information may be used to discriminate against them and inherently invades their privacy. In reality, most of the current legislation actually seeks to protect both sides.

Utah’s Internet Employment Privacy Act enforces protection of employees’ online identities, dictating that an “employer may not request disclosure of information related to [a] personal Internet account.” Also known as House Bill 100, this law, which applies to both employees and applicants, includes asking for usernames and passwords. If employers are found guilty of this, they may face up to a $500 fine. Additionally, the law states that employers may not “take adverse action, fail to hire, or otherwise penalize” anyone who will not disclose their information.

There are exceptions built in to protect the employer. They may legally require such information if the employer has provided the device and/or service or if the information is needed to carry out a disciplinary investigation, particularly if the employee’s actions in some way compromise the company – i.e. sharing of proprietary/confidential information or financial data. In addition, the employer can still view publicly available information in order to conduct due diligence.

In the ever-changing world of social media privacy legislation, one thing is clear; it will keep changing! Both employees and employers should check the current status in their state. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a good listing to help you do this. As always, know your rights and act on your responsibilities.

John Sileo is a social media privacy expert and professional speaker on building digital trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Visa, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.