In today’s digital age, what you post on social media stays with you; forever. You feel slightly anonymous as you sit behind your keyboard and type messages to friends, post commentary on current events, and even take part in a bit of celebrity bashing. The trouble is that you aren’t anonymous at all. In fact, in days gone by, Facebook and other social media outlets were considered public record. A new law in New Jersey is turning this idea on its head.
A state law went into effect in New Jersey on December 1, 2013, and it has people sitting up and taking notice. Workers in the state are now able to protect their personal pages from their boss’s prying eyes under the new law. Employers in New Jersey are now banned from requiring applicants or current employees from turning over passwords to Facebook and other online accounts. What was once considered public domain may not be so under the new law.
For employers who used public Facebook accounts as a way of vetting applicants, the law has come as a blow. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the law is a “smart idea.” According to many employers across the state, the law is a hindrance. Even though an employer can no longer force you to divulge passwords, here’s what they can do:
1. Access Public Information
If your Facebook account isn’t set up with the right privacy settings, it is still considered a public record of sorts. Any information posted to your profile that is immediately viewable by anyone else is also fair game for your employer.
2. Investigate Wrongdoings
If you choose to harass a coworker through your social media page, and that harassment affects the company, your employer has every right to investigate. If your workplace has strict policies on the behavior of its employees after hours and you choose to post suggestive photos, your employer, again, has every right to investigate.
3. Business Accounts
It is important to understand that the law has no effect on social media accounts that are set up for business purposes. For example, if you run your own company and apply for a job, your potential employer can ask you to allow access to your site.
The law is a big step towards separating a person’s work life from their private life. Proponents of the law are calling it a step in the right direction, advising that Facebook was never meant to be public record in the first place. Employers who violate the law, whether knowingly or not, are subject to a $1,000 fine for the first violation. Subsequent violations can cost employers $2,500. State governments around the nation are taking notice of this new legislation as, currently, there are fewer than a dozen states with similar laws in place. If the public sector and privacy-rights groups have any say, the law will become a template for others like it across the nation.