Like it or not, social media has become an inescapable part of life. No place is immune from its influence – not even the workplace. In recent years, employers have used social media as a tool to screen and investigate workers and potential hires.
Individuals and advocacy groups, concerned about a threat to employee privacy, have protested this practice. And one by one, states have started to agree, passing new regulations to protect employees’ private information. These laws are ushering in a new era for social media, with implications for both employers and workers.
Beginning in 2012, individual states began introducing legislation to prohibit employers from requesting or demanding access to their employees’ social media accounts. Currently, 21 states have laws in effect that in some measure ban employer access to employee social media accounts.
Though the variety and inconsistencies of these laws make it challenging for multistate employers to comply, there are guidelines every employer should adhere to in order to protect employee privacy rights.
Employers should never ask employees about their personal social media accounts or request access to them. Even if an employee’s social media account is public and unrestricted, employers should refrain from accessing it due to the sensitivity of the material and the concern that an employer could potentially access protected information.
Though South Carolina hasn’t passed legislation prohibiting employers from accessing workers’ social media accounts, it’s hopeful that they will follow the example of other states. And even if they don’t, many are holding out hope that federal legislation will be passed in the future to ensure the protection of all American workers.
Employers should never have the right to force employees or potential hires to disclose private information or access private social media accounts. This practice should be prohibited, especially in cases where it is used to make hiring or termination decisions. Many states are beginning to move in the right direction, and we can hope that many others will follow suit soon.