Can An Employer Ask for Your Social Media Passwords?

Social media has transformed the way that much of the world communicates. Because over a billion people regularly use social media to communicate with others, it’s fairly common for issues in the workplace to come up that are related to social media. Since this form of communication is still fairly new and continues to evolve, there are a lot of questions about what rights employees have in regards to the information they post online.

Can Potential Employers Look at Social Media Profiles for Hiring Purposes?

People were complaining about bosses they disliked or bad days at work long before Mark Zuckerberg ever had the initial idea for Facebook. While venting about work issues isn’t something that’s new, the reason social media changes things is because it puts these types of comments in a semi-public location. Not only are social media conversations semi-public, but they can also be permanently saved.

While someone may have forgotten about negative posts they made in regards to an employer or another topic, that doesn’t mean the HR department of a new employer will miss these comments. Since it’s currently within the rights of potential employers to look through public social media information for candidates, they can evaluate different aspects of a candidate’s character.

Some of the areas where a potential employer may use social media to evaluate a candidate include: looking at their judgment, career objectives, maturity and use of alcohol or drugs. Social media information can also be used to determine if a potential employee regularly conducts themselves in a professional manner.

Although employers who are in the process of hiring can use information they find on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as part of their evaluation, there are federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on certain pieces of information. Specifically, gender, national origin, disability, race, religion or age can’t be used as reasons to not hire a candidate.

Can a Current or Potential Employer Ask for Your Social Media Passwords?

Currently, there is no federal law that allows or prohibits employers from asking candidates or employees for their social media passwords. However, a total of 20 states have taken steps to address this subject through legislature. For example, in California, Section 980 of the Labor Code explicitly prohibits employers from asking employees or job applicants to provide their social media passwords.

If you’re in a state like California and an employer tries to force you into sharing your social media passwords, you should seek professional legal counsel as soon as possible. If you live in a state where your right to keep your passwords private isn’t protected by law, you may want to consider maintaining separate profiles that are specifically for professional purposes. And while it’s a good idea to be smart about what you post on your personal profile, the main thing to remember is you can’t always control what friends or other people connected to your profile may post.

Can an Employer Monitor What Employees Do Online at Work?

Even though many states have taken steps to protect employees’ privacy in regards to their private usage of social media, it’s important to understand that the same expectation of privacy does not extend to the workplace. As a general rule of thumb, employers can monitor just about anything you do on a work computer. That includes information sent via a work email address. Not only can employers monitor work computer and email activity, but they can use the information they gather via monitoring as grounds for termination.

The reason that employers are within their legal rights to monitor work computer activity is because these computers are their property. As a result, the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) allows what’s done with these computers to be monitored. While most employers will provide written policies of exactly how they handle monitoring, cases have ruled in favor of employers even when written policies weren’t provided to employees.

Can an Employee Be Fired Because of a Personal Blog or Website?

A common misconception about publishing a personal blog or website is that it’s fully protected by the First Amendment. While employees do have the right to share their thoughts online, that doesn’t mean an employer has to support those thoughts or opinions. Even if an employee never accesses their personal blog or website at work, an employer can still fire someone if they feel that what’s being published online reflects badly on the company or may be viewed as offensive by potential clients of the company.

Although there are a handful of states that prohibit employers from firing an employee for engaging in lawful conduct during off-duty hours, in the case of online publishing, multiple cases have set precedents in favor of employers. That reality is why it’s important for employees to be very cautious with what they post publicly on social media sites or other online platforms like blogs.