State lawmakers and the federal government are taking steps to stop employers from improperly snooping in employees’ and potential employees’ social media accounts. The employment claims lawyers of Elk & Elk believe laws must be in place to protect individuals’ privacy.
Earlier this week, Illinois became the second state to pass a law that makes it illegal for employers to ask job applicants for passwords to their online profiles.
Some companies and government agencies have started asking for passwords to log in to prospective employees’ accounts on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Many have criticized the practice as a serious invasion of privacy.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where several students claimed that their bosses’ online snooping had caused them to lose out on jobs or forced them to deactivate their profiles.
Quinn said that it was important that the law keep up with technology. “We’re dealing with 21st-century issues … Privacy is a fundamental right. I believe that and I think we need to fight for that,” Quinn said.
Rep. La Shawn Ford, sponsor of the bill, said, that penalties in any successful civil suit would start at between $100 and $300 but would likely end up costing employers much more.
Maryland is the only other state with a similar law, but several other states are considering bans, including Washington, Delaware and New Jersey.
The Illinois law protects both current and prospective employees. However, the law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2013, does not stop bosses from viewing information that isn’t restricted by privacy settings on the social media site.
Some research shows that as many as 75 percent of employers look at an applicant’s online profile before offering them a job. One-third of employers have turned down applicants based on what was found in those searches.
Employers asking employees or potential employees for their social media passwords is a gross invasion of privacy. While an employer has the right to vet any potential employees, there has to be a line maintained between what is public and what is private. There are limits about what questions an interviewer may ask an applicant. Is there any reason similar limits shouldn’t exist in cyberspace?
But no matter what the law may say about your privacy, it is always smart to be cautious about what you post on social media sites. You never know who may end up seeing it. Be smart and make good choices.