Are you working or looking for work? Do you use social media? Know your employee social media privacy rights!
A new Maine law addresses workers’ social media privacy. The purpose of the new law is to protect both job applicants and employees in Maine. "Social media" includes everything from personal email accounts to facebook, instagram, twitter, tumblr, and pinterest.
What are social media privacy rights?
Your boss, manager, supervisor, or the person interviewing you for a job cannot:
- Ask you for the password to your personal email or social media accounts;
- Ask you to get on your social media account while they are there with you;
- Ask you to give them any other information about your personal social media accounts;
- Make you "add" or "friend" them, or make them one of your contacts on any social media account;
- Ask you to change any of the privacy settings on your social media accounts to make it easier for outsiders to access your account or personal information.
What if I refuse to give up these rights?
This law also says that your employer can't fire you or threaten to fire you because you assert your privacy rights under this law. They also can't threaten to do something else against you, such as:
- cutting your hours;
- denying requests for time off;
- assigning you to a worse job.
If you are applying for a job, the employer can't refuse to hire you or not offer you a job just because you asserted your privacy rights.
Does this mean that my employer cannot access anything I post on the web?
No. The protections are limited. And, as an employee, or job applicant, you still need to be smart about what you post online and who can see it.
What your employer CAN do:
Look at your publicly available information
For example, your employer – or potential employer - can still access any information that anyone can view on your facebook page. Information about you that can be viewed by anyone is not private, and an employer can make decisions about whether or not to hire or fire you based on this information.
But, even if you are not part of a union, Federal law protects your right to engage in what is called “concerted activity.” This is your right to address workplace issues about pay, benefits, and working conditions with your co-workers, and bring it to the attention of management. Federal law may also protect posts about the terms and conditions of your employment on social media, especially if your goal in posting the content was to share information with co-workers. But, if your social media content is offensive, false, or disparage, or hurt the reputation of your employer in general instead of improve working conditions, the content is not protected and can be used to fire or discipline you.
It is always a good idea to adjust your privacy settings so only your friends or contacts can view your information. If you want to learn more, or get instructions on how to keep your social media accounts private, check out these guides:
Screen and monitor in regulated industries
If you work in an industry that is regulated by the government, like banking or insurance, your employer may have to screen and monitor some of your work-related communications. This is required by law and is not covered by your employee social media privacy rights. It is common for other employers to have access to their employees’ electronic work files. Similarly, these would not be protected.
Investigate workplace wrongdoing or illegal activity on the job
Your employer can ask you for your social media account information if they are investigating on-the-job misconduct or actions at work that break the law. In that case, your employer can use the information only for that investigation. If they try to use that information against you for any other reason, then they are violating your social media privacy rights.
Make and enforce employer electronics rules
Your employer can still make rules about the use of social media at work and what you can and cannot do using work computers or phones. Your employer can also require you to give them your username, password, code, or other information that will let them access any electronics they provide for you to use for work. This includes a work computer, a work phone, or work tablet.
What happens if my employer breaks the law?
The Maine Department of Labor (DOL) is in charge of enforcing this law. If your employer violates your social media privacy rights, they may be fined:
- At least $100 for the first violation;
- At least $250 for the second violation;
- At least $500 for the third violation; and
- At least $500 for each violation after three
It is yet to be seen how effective these enforcement tools will be. Note that the Maine DOL's enforcement powers do not include giving you your job back or putting you back to work if you are fired for refusing to give up your social media privacy rights. If the Maine DOL fails to help you, you can bring a court action against your employer for violations. Claims for up to $6000 can be brought in Small Claims Court.