Wisconsin enacted a new law on April 8, 2014 prohibiting employers, educational institutions, and landlords from requesting or requiring access to personal Internet accounts. The new law, codified at Wis. Stat. Section 995.55, defines “personal Internet account” as any Internet-based account that is created and used by an individual exclusively for the purpose of personal communications. Pursuant to the statute, employers may not request or require an employee or applicant for employment, as a condition of employment, to disclose access information for their personal account or to otherwise grant access or allow observation of the account. Employers may not discharge or otherwise discriminate against an employee for exercising their right to refuse access, and employers may not refuse to hire an applicant because the applicant refused to disclose access information for, grant access to, or allow observation of the applicant’s personal Internet account. The law does not prohibit an employer from requiring access information to gain access to or operate an electronic communications device supplied or paid for in whole or in part by the employer, or to gain access to an account or service provided by the employer obtained by virtue of the employment relationship or used for the employer’s business purposes. The statute also does not prohibit discipline or discharge based of an employee for transferring proprietary or confidential information to the employee’s personal account without authorization, nor does it prevent an employer from conducting an investigation if the employer has reasonable cause to believe such a transfer occurred. Wisconsin employers may also still restrict an employee’s access to certain Internet sites while using an employer-supplied device.
An employer that inadvertently obtains access information for an employee’s personal Internet account through monitoring of the employer’s network is not liable for possessing the access information, so long the employer does not use the information to actually access the account. The Wisconsin statute also contains similar prohibitions applicable to educational institutions and landlords. Wisconsin is the 13th state to enact legislation prohibiting employers from requiring or requesting passwords or access information for social media and other personal Internet-based accounts.