SOCIAL MEDIA PASSWORD BAN IN Maryland
Effective October 1, 2012 employers in the state of Maryland will no longer be able to request passwords, user names or other personal information for social media sites such as Facebook or Linkedin. It has become more common for employers, especially in the public sector, to review Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts to learn more about potential job applicants. However, many users have their profiles set to private which prevents the employer from accessing the social media network for the applicant. In order to gain access, some employers are now requiring that an applicant provide them with the user name and passwords to their accounts, asking them to ‘friend’ HR Managers, or requiring them to log in on a company computer to allow the prospective employer to see the various networks.
On its face it doesn’t appear to be illegal and some employers argue it is necessary to try to determine if the applicant is involved in something illegal. They view it no different than checking personal references. However the problem is social networks like Facebook include a wide-range of personal information that includes sex, age, religion and sexual orientation. All of this information is protected under federal equal opportunity employment laws. The practice may also violate the Stored Communications and Computer Fraud and Abuse acts.
The legal issue has come to the attention of legislatures on both the State and Federal level. A recent amendment introduced in the House was defeated, but only because many felt it was not strong enough to protect the privacy of individuals. Maryland is the first state to pass a law prohibiting the practice, but the states of California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington are also looking at the issue. New York Senator Charles Schumer and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal have also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate if the practice violates federal laws.
Until this is resolved, employers who are requiring or thinking of requiring that job applicants provide user names and passwords to their social media networks, should review the practice to ensure they are not inadvertently opening themselves up to possible litigation.