Have you ever reviewed the Facebook or LinkedIn profile or other social media activity of an employee or applicant? How about requiring employees or applicants to provide access to social media activity as a condition of employment. The Maryland and Illinois legislatures would like to limit employers’ ability to engage in this kind of activity with new laws that would be the first of their kind in the nation.

UPDATE – Newly enacted Maryland law prohibits employers from demanding access to Facebook or other on line accounts of employees and applicants.

Maryland. Under one version of the law in Maryland, H.B. 364, employers would not be permitted to

  • require an employee or applicant . . . to disclose any user name, password, or other means for accessing any internet site or electronic account through an electronic device, or
  • require an employee to install on the employee’s personal electronic device software that monitors or tracks the content of the electronic device.  

Under this bill, the employer could not discipline the employee or refuse or fail to hire the applicant for not complying with such requests. However, an employer could require an employee to disclose username, password or other means of access to the employer’s internal computer or information systems. 

The provision that would prohibit employers from monitoring or tracking content on electronic devices would present a dilemma for employers faced with various legal and ethical obligations to safeguard personal and other confidential data. Many employers are struggling to find ways to track, limit, and in some cases encrypt, personal and other confidential information maintained on portable electroinc devices, including the personal devices of employees. This bill would make that process more challenging, particulalry for businesses with nationwide operations in heavily regulated businesses such as healthcare, insurance, finance and so on.   

Two other bills (H.B. 310, S.B. 434) also are being considered that would prohibit public and nonpublic colleges and universities from making similar demands on students and applicants.

Illinois. The Illinois law being considered (H.B. 3782) would make it unlawful for "any employer to ask any prospective employee to provide any username, password, or other related account information in order to gain access to a social networking website where that prospective employee maintains an account or profile."

Existing Risks with Searching/Monitoring the Social Media Activity of Employees or Applicants. The Maryland and Illinois laws, if passed, may be the first of their kind, but they certainly are not the first risks employers have faced when engaging in this kind of activity. In fact, there are a range of existing risks employers must consider, such as

  • Finding medical information protected under the American with Disabilities Act or the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
  • Acting inconsistently when similar information is found about different applicants/employees/executives.
  • Acting on information that is not true.
  • Intruding into private areas.  
  • Failure to document the steps taken in conducting the search.
  • Not realizing the Fair Credit Reporting Act may apply and require consent and notice requirements.
  • Unlawfully limiting protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act.

Employers therefore need to proceed carefully when using social media as a tool for making decisions concerning hiring, promotion, discipline, and termination.  Assessing whether to engage in such activity, how and when to do so, who should be authorized to search and monitor in this way, and what training should be provided can go a long way to minimizing these risks.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.