HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

New Federal Law Would Bar Employers From Demanding Online Passwords

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By Eric B. Meyer

A few weeks ago, as reported here, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation that would ban employers from demanding that employees or job candidates turn over their social media passwords.

Could a federal law be soon to follow?

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.,has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would outlaw this practice nationally. The bill, known as Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), is broader than the Maryland bill. According to this press release from Congressman Engel, SNOPA not only covers employers, but also schools and universities.

What the bill would do

Although the text of the bill is not yet available online, the press release further notes that SNOPA would accomplish two objectives:

  • Prohibit current or potential employers from requiring a user name, password or other access to online content. It does not permit employers to demand such access to discipline, discriminate or deny employment to individuals, nor punish them for refusing to volunteer the information.
  • Apply the same restrictions to colleges and universities, and K-12 schools as well.

While I agree that requiring applicants to furnish social media passwords as a condition of employment is, generally, a bad business practice, I fear that the firestorm about employers supposedly demanding social media passwords is drastically overblown. The examples of employers — most notably the City of Bozeman, Montana and the Maryland Department of Corrections — who have made this stupid mistake, are old news. Both employers were publicly scrutinized and shamed into stopping.

So, while I anxiously await seeing the text of the bill, I will spend my time in the interim hunting for the great white buffalo who, in 2012, actually demands social media passwords from its employees and potential hires.

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 .
  • Guest

    Agree completely with your comments. This is an amazing example of government over reaction to an issue that, basically, doesn’t exist. If an employer does ask for a social media password, they fail the stupid test and will find it very hard to find any new employees. Let’s focus legislation on things that matter.