Can Employers Access Current or Prospective Employee Social Media Accounts?
By Bill Olson
Chief Marketing Officer
United Benefit Advisors
We’ve become a very connected society, but that doesn’t mean we want to share everything with everybody. Take, for example, your social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). Typically, you have a select network of individuals with whom you want to connect and share your life, thoughts, and opinions. But what happens when a current or prospective employer wants access to your social media account either as a “friend” or by demanding your login and password information?
In an article on the website of Employee Benefit News titled, “Can employers access an employee's social media account?,” it outlines how the law is changing in some states and when there’s an exception to request social media access. Some states do not allow an employer to ask an employee to either friend them or give them access to their social media accounts. In addition, there are states that prohibit a company from asking an employee to log in to their social media site while a company representative is present and watching. Furthermore, the laws in some states also have language in them forbidding retaliation against an employee who does not provide his or her social media access. Not all states have laws pertaining to employee rights with social media, but with those that do the law often varies. If a company has employees in multiple states, it needs to be especially careful, which is why it’s always best to consult with an attorney. This blog entry, as well as the website article, should not be taken as legal advice.
Granted, sometimes an employer has legitimate reasons to want to see what an employee is posting. Examples of these would include when an employee is speaking negatively about the company, using social media to bully or harass another employee, or posting company information that’s proprietary and confidential. Regardless, the employer will need to be careful and consult an attorney before attempting to request or otherwise access an employee’s social media account. Because of these reasons, there are often exceptions built into a state law that allow for internal investigations, violations of company policy, or illegal activities.
An important point to note is that many of these laws allow companies to review any information that’s publicly available. So if a company is doing a simple Internet search of your name during the hiring process and certain information or photos happen to turn up on a public website, then all that is fair game.