Nowadays, social media is more prevalent than ever. By the nature of how these systems function, users are encouraged to share information, both with the website and app owners, as well as publicly and privately with other users. Many of us have heard the adage that the Internet is forever, an admonition meant to encourage restraint in what we share, given the possibility of negative consequences in our personal and even work lives. But what does the law say regarding social media? What information are other people, for instance employers, allowed to access about us, and information sharing ever be compelled? This blog will explain how the law treats social media across the country. If your employer has ever requested or required information about your social media accounts, you should contact an Atlanta employment rights attorney for advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
Can My Employer Check My Social Media?
“Social media” can refer to many websites and app services. The legal definition of social media varies from state to state, but typically it includes accounts on websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as services less traditionally associated with the term social media, such as personal email accounts, your phone’s photo gallery, messaging apps, and even podcasts.
Communication via electronic services has quickly become integral to people’s daily social lives. Consequently, many employers have attempted to implement workplace policies for social media use, and at the same time, some states have implemented laws to regulate what information employers can and cannot control.
However, there is no federal law that prohibits employers from requiring their employees to share their social media usernames, more concerningly their passwords, and most concerningly, to even disclose information not publicly available. Georgia also does not have any workplace privacy laws in this respect.
Social Media and State Law Across the United States
The above being said, it’s important to note nationwide trends too. More than half the states in the country do have laws meant to protect not just employees, but also those applying to jobs.
Often, workplace privacy laws in these states do not permit employers to request access to an employee’s social media. This can mean that the employer cannot ask for usernames or passwords. States furthermore take into consideration other ways employers might seek to go around this prohibition, by also denying employers the ability to force their employees to open their social media in the presence of another person. And the most protective state laws do not even allow employers to view information that the employee has shared publicly. Finally, workplace privacy laws include anti-retaliation provisions for when employees request their employers to adhere to the law.
Because workplace privacy laws are largely a state by state system, how these laws are enforced varies as well. In some states, state agencies like labor departments administer workplace privacy laws. In others, employees and job applicants are provided with a right of action to sue their employer civilly. Claimants can expect compensation through civil penalties in some states, but also greater compensation in others, like damages, job reinstatement, and attorney fees.