States Ban Social Media Snooping

by | Aug 19, 2014 | Our Blog

Some states are beginning to lead the charge in safeguarding individual privacy rights when it comes to social media.
On Aug. 1, 2014, New Hampshire became the 18th state in the country on August 1, 2014 to bar employers from requesting access to the personal social media accounts of present or prospective employees. Similar legislation has either been introduced or is pending in at least 28 states. So far, six states (Louisiana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin) have passed social media privacy laws this year. Maryland was the first state to pass such a law, back in 2012. While two attempts to pass a federal social media workplace privacy law stalled ou, many hope that someday we will see a federal law.

Social Media Screening

The laws that states are passing prohibit employers from asking job candidates and current employees for their login information, including passwords, to those social media sites. Such sites can show how job candidates behave online or what employees have shared when they think no one who matters is reading.

See Some Evil

“One of the toughest aspects within social media is context. Often when we see things, it can be hard to understand the context for which it was shared,” said Sharlyn Lauby, president of HR consultancy ITM Group Inc. in southern Florida, in an interview with SHRM Online. Lauby, who writes the HR Bartender blog, is also a member of SHRM’s Ethics/Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Special Expertise Panel. “If an employer is looking at someone’s social media presence, they need to realize that they might not be looking at the entire conversation or history. An employer might jump to conclusions about a person without the full story.”

Pay Some Fines

Even so, some states now have laws that bar employers, schools, colleges, teachers and coaches from requiring employees and students to allow them to read what’s in their social media accounts. What’s more, some laws not only prohibit employers from seeking access to personal social media postings, they also ban employers from retaliating against those who refuse to give up their passwords. In some cases, forcing someone to reveal social media postings is a punishable offense, and fines reportedly range from $500 to $1,000.

Take Care How You Share

Research group eMarketer reports that last year there were 1.73 billion social media users worldwide and predicts that by 2018, 2.55 billion people worldwide will use such sites. As most people use social media (73 percent do, according to the Pew Research Center), attorney John Riccione, a managing partner with the Chicago firm of Aronberg Goldgehn, offers these do’s (for employers) and don’ts (for employees) on social media in the workplace.


  • Make sure social media policies are clear and that employees understand what will and will not be tolerated.
  • Encourage employees to test their privacy settings for social media accounts. Even if information is labeled as “private,” posts can make their way through the Internet grapevine quickly.
  • Encourage employees to use their better judgment when creating a post. It is their right to say what they please, but if they don’t want their boss to see what’s posted, then they shouldn’t post it.


  • Post anything negatively related to your employer. Even if you are having a bad day at the office, keep your thoughts to yourself. You never know when those words can come back to haunt you.
  • Gossip about fellow employees on the Internet. “In a competitive workplace, it may be tempting to use social media as a means to lash out about co-workers, but doing so may fall under cyber bullying and can have severe consequences,” Riccione said. This can also make you look bad to future employers.