Since 2012, states have been passing laws restricting employers’ rights to request or require employees’ or applicants’ passwords to personal online accounts and social media accounts. Maryland and Illinois kicked off the trend which has spread to thirteen states, Wisconsin being the latest. The laws range from the Illinois law that restricts access to only social media sites to Maryland and New Jersey’s laws which broadly restrict access to personal accounts.
Wisconsin’s law is written very broadly and includes all personal internet accounts, which likely includes social media, email, shopping accounts, fantasy sports accounts, or other personal accounts. The law prohibits all employers, regardless of size, from requesting or requiring an employee or applicant to disclose access information for these accounts, to grant access, or to otherwise allow the employer to observe the account (e.g., shoulder-surfing). Like many of the other states’ laws, Wisconsin’s includes many exceptions to the general prohibition for such things as access to accounts paid for by the employer, viewing information in the public domain, and requesting or requiring an employee’s personal electronic email address.
In addition to these thirteen states, over 30 states considered social media laws last year. Employers should understand the rule in their state if there is one. Regardless of whether their state has a social media law, employers should be careful when making employment decisions based on information learned through social media. For example, if an employer discovers an employee is a union supporter from her Facebook page, the employer cannot fire the employer based on that information. If this kind of situation arises, it may be more effective to consult with an attorney before making a potentially costly mistake.
Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying with state and federal employment laws. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.965.0560.