Bill Would Protect Employees' Social Networking Passwords

Posted at: 02/07/2013 5:46 PM
Updated at: 02/08/2013 7:53 AM
By: Steve Tellier

Your boss asks you to give him or her your Facebook password. Right now, many workers basically have two choices: Give it to them or quit.

But a group of Minnesota lawmakers wants to make sure you're never faced with that decision.

"People have a right to their privacy on social media," said Rep. Mary Franson (R - Alexandria).

Franson wrote a bipartisan bill aimed at protecting that privacy. It would forbid employers from forcing job applicants or current employees to hand over their social networking passwords.

"To actually ask for the password and the employer going in and snooping around -- I think that we need to draw the line on that," Franson said.

"It's one of those things that kind of chills a lot of people," said Fred Finch, an employment lawyer with Bassford Remele.

Finch said right now, if your boss demands passwords, you probably have no legal recourse. He added that the current legal landscape is loaded with uncertainty on this issue, with federal agencies trying to write the rules right now.

"That effort is in a state of flux. Lawyers don't exactly know what effect those rules have," Finch said.

He said it's another case of technology getting out ahead of the law.

There's just one more question: Does this actually happen?

Five Eyewitness News asked our Facebook followers, and only one woman who responded offered first-hand experience. She posted that her former boss asked for her password, but she refused.

Franson said she's heard from plenty of others who have been pressured for passwords.

"I just want to get ahead of this and have that conversation before there is a problem," Franson said.

Some employees already have protection against this. If you work for the state or civil service, or are a member of a union, you likely have protection against being fired for not surrendering a password. But if not, you're on your own.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, last year, six states passed legislation that would forbid employers from forcing workers to give up their passwords. Already this year, 24 other states have introduced similar bills. There's also legislation on this issue pending in congress.