In the not-so distant past, Facebook was mostly a way of keeping in touch with friends you had not seen since high school, and Twitter was largely used to keep people informed about your thoughts on current events (or, more realistically, your thoughts on what you ate for lunch). In the last few years, however, the professional world has eroded the strictly personal nature of social media. Companies now try to promote their products over Twitter and Tumblr; they use Facebook to decide whether job applicants are really as disciplined and discreet as they seem in interviews.
Oregon House Bill 2654, a narrowed version of which recently passed in the Oregon House by a vote of 56 to 3, aims to reinforce this increasingly porous line between the personal and the professional by placing restrictions on what employers can require of their employees in regards to social media. According to a recent article in The Oregonian, Representative Margaret Doherty sponsored the original bill (which also restricted the social media access of educational institutions) in response to reports that employers were increasingly trying to access potential employees’ Facebook accounts.
Social Media Privacy Rights under House Bill 2654
House Bill 2654 addresses several issues in regards to the privacy rights of employees and potential employees who participate in social media. First, the bill prevents employers from retaliating against employees and job applicants who refuse to provide the employer with access to their social media account. In other words, a boss cannot penalize his or her employee or potential employee for refusing to accept a ‘friend request’ on Facebook, or for limiting what the employer can see on the employee’s account.
In addition, according to the article, employers cannot request social media passwords from their employees or job applicants. However, if employers obtain such passwords by accident, through administration over the company network for example, they will not be in violation of this law. Furthermore, employers still retain the ability to look into their employees’ online wrongdoing, as long as they do not compel the employee to provide additional access to his or her social media account.
These restrictions, of course, only cover employee and job applicants’ personal social media accounts. An employer is well within his or her rights, for example, to require that an employee disclose the username and password of the company’s Facebook page or Twitter account. While employers cannot require that employees use their personal Facebook or Twitter accounts to “like” or “retweet” something related to the company, they certainly can require employees to do so from the business’s accounts.
Finally, the bill only works to prevent employers from coercing employees and applicants into providing access to social media accounts. It does nothing to prevent employers from searching out information about their employees or job applicants that would be available to the public at large. Therefore, job applicants and employees who maintain lax privacy settings on their social media accounts run the risk that actual or potential employers will be able to see personal information about them.
Privacy Issues for Employees Now
The Bill is now headed to the state Senate, and it will be interesting to see where the Senate falls in terms of social media privacy protections for employees. In the meantime, individuals who wish to keep their personal accounts out of the reach of their employers or potential future employers would be well-advised to maintain restrictive privacy settings.
If you or someone you know feels that your privacy has been unfairly violated by an employer, please contact one of our attorneys to discuss your rights.