Upcoming Social Media Law Highlights Do's and Don'ts For Employers

Jennifer Gladstone

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Isocial-media-lawt might be tempting to log on and check out your applicants on Facebook and Twitter, but a new social media law that goes into effect on January 1, 2015 puts real restrictions on how employers can use that information.

The list of Don'ts is pretty long. 

The law forbids an employer from asking for passwords to personal social media accounts and employees cannot be pressured to “friend” their employer.  Essentially, employers cannot force employees or applicants to give them any kind of access, whether it be Facebook, Linked In or any other site.  It will also be illegal for an employer to take adverse action, refuse to hire or penalize an applicant because of anything found on social media.

That said, things that happen on the internet are real, and they stick around forever.  It is not unreasonable for employers to worry about their reputation, which is often in the hands of their employees.

So what can an employer do?

First, anything available in the public domain is fair game, which CAN be used to screen employees and applicants.  It is up to individuals to make sure their privacy settings are the way they want them.  If you allow the public access, you are allowing your employer access.

All the rules change when it comes to company owned devices.  Employers can have access to information on any smart phone, tablet or laptop that they provide.  Just as they can monitor key strokes as you sit at your desk, employers have the right to watch and restrict what you do online.  In this case, an employer CAN ask for passwords and usernames… they can also discipline or fire someone based on the information they find.

This list might seem cut and dry, but a conversation with EBI’s HR manager, Julie Mulhern, shows it’s really not. In fact, Mulhern says these rules create even more gray areas for employers. “It’s hard,” she says.  “It’s the future. Social media is the place to go for so many things, but you could set yourself up for trouble.  We can ask employees not to post things, but we cannot really police it. Employers can find themselves in a tough situation having to make a judgment call.”

Mulhern says the most important thing a company can do is to review their social media policy carefully with your legal counsel.  The more specific your policy, the easier it is for employees to and managers to know their rights and limitations under the new law.

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Employment Background Investigations is a technology driven leader in domestic and global pre-employment background checks, drug testing, occupational health screening and I-9 compliance. We specialize in development, implementation and management of customized employment screening programs for large and multi-national clients. We are dedicated to information security.  EBI is the only NAPBS Accredited background screening company to hold both an ISO 27001:2005 certification for information security and an ISO 9001:2008 certification for Quality Management.

All content provided by EBI is published for the convenience of its readers and should never be deemed as legal guidance or advice.  Always consult your legal counsel for specific advice on state laws and industry regulations.

Jennifer Gladstone

Posted By: Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone is a news anchor and journalist with more than 20 years of experience in front of the camera. She's worked in several markets, large and small, and has performed nearly every task needed in a newsroom. As EBI’s Screening News Editor, she keeps EBI’s customers and blog subscribers up to date on the latest screening news and legislative alerts affecting companies of all sizes.

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