Concern Over Social Media Privacy

By Lindsey Novak

September 24, 2015 4 min read

Q: My boss asked me for my social media passwords. I was too stunned to answer immediately. After I calmed down, I told him I would never post anything against the company, and I would never post anything of which I would be ashamed. He said he knew I wouldn't, but this was going to be a new procedure. I told him I'd like to think about it before I do anything, and he was OK with that. The fact is that I don't want to share my passwords. I am friendly at work, but these people are not my Facebook friends; just because I post something doesn't mean I want everyone to know about it. I don't want to lose my job, and I don't know if the request is legal. I don't know what to do.

A: Social media has changed the world, whether for or against it, whether you participate or not. If it is a legal request in your state, you will likely have to comply with his request. To best answer your question, I turned to Patrick L. Boyd of The Boyd Law Group. According to Boyd, "Social media continues to creep into labor and employment law, and each state is responding differently. We can understand this woman's hesitancy to share her social media passwords. Not necessarily because she is ashamed of anything she posts, but simply because she believes her postings are private and she is entitled to this privacy, just as she would be entitled to the privacy of her home.

"On the other hand, in today's competitive and litigious business environment, businesses are taking every possible step to make sure the integrity and safety of the workplace is protected. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that extra examination of a prospective or current employee's public accounts allows them added insight, which may be important in making hiring or promotional decisions."

To show how different states interpret privacy, says Boyd, "New York does not have a law prohibiting an employer's request for passwords for a potential employee's social media accounts. New Jersey, however, does protect employees from this type of request. But, to be honest, the penalty imposed upon employers - $1,000 for the first violation — is not one likely to have consequence in stopping employers. A Connecticut law on the subject will become effective Oct. 15, 2015, and allows an aggrieved employee to file a complaint with the Department of Labor. In such a case, the employee may recover significant losses making this the most robust of the states in terms of employee protection.

"The central theme of the laws passed and pending throughout the nation seems to be that if an employee is publicly posting or writing, he/she may not be entitled to much protection. Similarly, if an employee is posting or writing using an employer's device or hardware, they should not expect privacy. Private posts and writings from private accounts and personal devices, however, are likely to be viewed by the law and courts as private actions that an employer should not be able to snoop through."

All employees should be cautious about their social media writings and postings. Less privacy means more judgment by almost everyone — even employers. As we write and post more and more, we will be judged more and more. As with all things, there is an up and a downside to everything.

As author Charles Bukowski said, "There's nothing like privacy. You know, I like people. It's nice that they might like my books and all that ... but I'm not the book, see? I'm the guy who wrote it, but I don't want them to come up and throw roses on me or anything. I want them to let me breathe."

Email your questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @TheLindseyNovak. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Website at www.creators.com.

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