HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

Maryland Is First State to Ban Asking For Employee Facebook Passwords

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By Eric B. Meyer

And the first state to ban asking for employee Facebook passwords is … Maryland. (Now if only they would do something about this).

Earlier last month, I mentioned here that Maryland was one of three states — California and Illinois were the others — considering legislation to ban employers from requesting social media passwords from employees and job applicants. Andrew Feinberg from TheHill.com has the full scoop here on Maryland becoming the first to make it law:

The state’s General Assembly passed legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring or seeking user names, passwords or any other means of accessing personal Internet sites such as Facebook as a condition of employment.

The bill has its genesis in a controversy that began when Maryland Corrections Officer Robert Collins returned to work following a leave of absence taken after the death of his mother.”

No carve-outs for public agencies

Here is a copy of the bill. I wrote about the Maryland Department of Corrections issues here last year and added my two cents to say that asking for Facebook passwords is a bad business practice.

Maryland ACLU legislative director Melissa Goemann said that Maryland “has trail-blazed a new frontier in protecting freedom of expression in the digital age, and has created a model for other states to follow.” However, according to this report from C. Benjamin Ford, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce opposed the prohibition because the bills did not acknowledge there could be legitimate issues for some employers to want to review applicants’ or workers’ social media messages.

What concerns me is that there are no carve-outs for public agencies that protect and serve the public. I can understand why a police department may need to fully vet its candidates by making sure that applicants and officers don’t have hate speech towards a particular protected class, for example, on their Facebook page. As I imagine that this information could be used to overturn arrests and indictments.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that the Maryland law makes it unlawful for an employee to download, without authorization, the employer’s proprietary information or financial data to a personal email account or website. Employers who have information suggesting that this has occurred may get employee social media passwords.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .