Facebook remains a murky area for employers and employees alike, as both try to understand the shifting boundaries regarding freedom of speech and personal privacy online.
Employers in six states will no longer be able to require that their employees hand over personal Facebook account passwords thanks to new laws taking effect this year. Beginning on January 1, 2013, new laws that took effect prohibit employers in California and Illinois from demanding passwords of employees’ social media accounts. These laws also make it illegal for employers to request social networking passwords or non-public online account information from job applicants as well. Other states in which similar laws will take effect in 2013 are New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, and Maryland.
While Facebook itself has stressed that demanding one's password is a violation of its terms of service and suggested that it could begin legal action against employers or individuals who do so, it has not actively intervened in the ongoing privacy debate. However, employers asking for passwords to Twitter or Facebook overstepped the boundaries of personal privacy. Therefore, it took legislative action to clarify the boundaries between an employer’s desire to know and an employee’s right to privacy.
Employees and job seekers in all states will still need to be careful what they post online. Employers will continue to utilize publicly available social networking information. However, these new laws continue to underscore the fact that all employers must remain vigilant about their obligations in the evolving world of social media.