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Can Employers Request Social Media Account Information?

In the midst of a tough job market, prospective employees are now dealing with a troubling trend of employers seeking Facebook and other social media passwords as part of their vetting process. After a recent Associated Press report, considerable debate has arisen not only about the propriety of seeking private information, but whether it was actually legal.

Despite threats of legal action, the practice continues unabated. Some suspect that employers ask for passwords simply because they can. After all, job applicants in a tough job market are likely to give employers what they want simply because they need the job. Also, there is no state or federal law that explicitly prevents potential employers from asking for Facebook passwords. In fact, employers may even be able to ask for passwords of current employees.

The law on social media is quickly evolving, and with online bullying and harassment becoming national conversation pieces, privacy advocates are relying more on anti-discrimination laws to prevent employers from asking for social media passwords. Employers are not allowed to make hiring decisions based on race, sex, disability, marital status, age, and religious views. A candidate’s Facebook page would quickly reveal this protected information, but it may also give employers insight on issues that may affect their business, such as an applicant’s work ethic and reliability, their ability to work well with others, as well as illicit activities.

The Future of Social Media Privacy Law

Ultimately, prospective employees should become familiar with an employer’s social media policy during the application process so that they understand what is expected from them. Currently, there is no recognized right of privacy (or free speech) while using electronic communications in the workplace, but lawmakers are taking steps to make laws that will ban employers from asking for social media and other private information.

If you are concerned with an employer’s request for your social media account information, contact an experienced employment law attorney to learn about your rights and options.