Business Brains

Lawmakers forbid employers from requesting social passwords

Posting in Design

While the incidents appear to be isolated, the uproar caused by perceived invasions of privacy is something all companies should consider as they tiptoe onto social networks.

The push by states to squelch the still relatively limited practice of businesses requesting access to workers' or job seekers' social network passwords gained momentum this week when a second state moved to pass legislation intended to protect private information.

California Assembly Bill 1844 would make information that people designate as private on their social networks as off-limits to employers. The bill passed with no dissenting vote, now it moves onto the Senate.

To be fair, although incidents about people being asked for their Facebook password appear to be few and far between, the uproar surrounding the practice has been loud and sustained. Maryland was the first state to move forward with legislation intended to thwart this sort of thing. The move by that state was prompted when a Maryland state correctional officer was asked for his Facebook name and password after returning from a leave of absence. He complained to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has taken a stand against the practice.

There is some federal activity of a similar nature under way. Even in a perpetually deadlocked Congress, this seems like the sort of thing that would pass with little objection, if it is deemed necessary.

Incidentally, none of this legislation will protect someone if they are stupid enough to post something publicly that is in breach of a corporate social network policy. If their company actually has one. This chain of events points up the caution with which businesses must proceed in the social realm. Sensitivity to social media etiquette cannot be required, and it is likely to be a skill acquired through trial and error.

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure