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Two states now ban employers from requesting Facebook passwords

It has become apparent that social media is blurring the line between work and private life. Unfortunately, unless this line is clearly defined and stays fixed, it can create a multitude of problems for both employees and employers.

Employers have been using sites like Facebook to vet potential employees for quite some time. After all, any information that users make publically available is fair game. But earlier this year, we wrote that a growing number of companies are asking job seekers to hand over their Facebook account passwords in order to let the interviewer have full access to both public and private information.

Naturally, this has caused a lot of anger among job seekers, civil liberties groups and anyone else who believes that maintaining one's right to privacy should not make them ineligible for employment. In response, lawmakers in several states have considered legislation to prevent this unfair employment practice.

There has not been any substantial Facebook-related legislative action here in Florida, but two states have now passed their own laws prohibiting employers from asking for passwords to Facebook and other social media sites. In April, Maryland became the first state to enact such a law. Earlier this month, Illinois passed its own law, which will go into effect at the start of 2013.

When signing the bill into law, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn noted: "Privacy is a fundamental right. I believe that, and I think we need to fight for that."

This is an issue that is not only detrimental to job seekers. Employers who demand access to a candidate's social media accounts may be opening themselves up to lawsuits alleging discrimination based on age, religion, race or any other legally protected personal information.

The legislator who sponsored the bill explained: "Social networking accounts are places where we document the personal and private aspects of our lives, and employers have realized they can get answers to questions they are prohibited from asking by gaining unfettered access to our accounts. This legislation may protect employers from future lawsuits as much as it protects employees and job seekers."

Hopefully, passing a similar bill to protect Florida's workers will soon prove to be a high priority for our state legislators.

Source: The Beacon-News, "Illinois employers can't ask for Facebook logins, under new law," Aug. 2, 2012

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