New Federal Law Would Bar Employers From Demanding Online Passwords

By Eric B. Meyer

A few weeks ago, as reported here, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation that would ban employers from demanding that employees or job candidates turn over their social media passwords.

Could a federal law be soon to follow?

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.,has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would outlaw this practice nationally. The bill, known as Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), is broader than the Maryland bill. According to this press release from Congressman Engel, SNOPA not only covers employers, but also schools and universities.

What the bill would do

Although the text of the bill is not yet available online, the press release further notes that SNOPA would accomplish two objectives:

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  • Prohibit current or potential employers from requiring a user name, password or other access to online content. It does not permit employers to demand such access to discipline, discriminate or deny employment to individuals, nor punish them for refusing to volunteer the information.
  • Apply the same restrictions to colleges and universities, and K-12 schools as well.

While I agree that requiring applicants to furnish social media passwords as a condition of employment is, generally, a bad business practice, I fear that the firestorm about employers supposedly demanding social media passwords is drastically overblown. The examples of employers — most notably the City of Bozeman, Montana and the Maryland Department of Corrections — who have made this stupid mistake, are old news. Both employers were publicly scrutinized and shamed into stopping.

So, while I anxiously await seeing the text of the bill, I will spend my time in the interim hunting for the great white buffalo who, in 2012, actually demands social media passwords from its employees and potential hires.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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1 Comment on “New Federal Law Would Bar Employers From Demanding Online Passwords

  1. Agree completely with your comments. This is an amazing example of government over reaction to an issue that, basically, doesn’t exist. If an employer does ask for a social media password, they fail the stupid test and will find it very hard to find any new employees. Let’s focus legislation on things that matter. 

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