Social media and workplace privacy issues before Senate Labor Comm.

TRENTON – The Senate Labor Committee will – again – hold a hearing on three bills focusing on privacy and social media accounts. The bills are on the agenda for Thursday’s committee hearing.

Bill S1915 would prohibit employers from requiring workers to provide passwords, or other information, that would enable them to access their workers’ electronic accounts.

The bill states that an employer is also prohibited from asking a current or prospective employee if he has an account or profile on a social networking website. Fines are $1,000 for the first violation and $2,500 for each future one.

The bill is sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, (D-3), of West Deptford, and Sen. Jim Whelan, (D-2), of Atlantic City.

Another bill, S1916,  does virtually the same thing as S1915, but it applies to higher education institutions. That bill is also sponsored by Sweeney.

The bill states that it would prohibit the “requirement to disclose user name, password, or other means for accessing an account or service through electronic communications devices by institutions of higher education.”

The third bill, S1898, would prohibit employers from requiring employees to provide information for access to their social networking websites.

The issue of employers and colleges or universities asking for applicants’ personal information regarding their social media accounts has grown recently. There aren’t any federal laws that  specifically prohibit the practice.  

There is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), and the Stored Communications Act (SCA),  which prohibit employers from accessing their employees’ personal online information in an unauthorized manner.

However, it’s unclear if those protections would apply if job applicants willingly turn over that information when asked for it by prospective employers.

Perhaps because of the grayness of the issue, state legislatures have taken it upon themselves to pass laws themselves to address the issue.

New Jersey isn’t the only state where lawmakers are looking to end the practice. In fact, two states – Maryland and Illinois – have already passed laws banning the practice. Other states, such as Delaware and Washington, are also looking into the issue.

The New Jersey Association of State Colleges is still reviewing the bill.

“We haven’t formed an opinion on it yet,” said spokesman Paul Shelly.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president for the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, said it is waiting to see if the Senate will accept an amendment to the bill approved by the Assembly.

That amendment, proposed by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, (D-3), of Paulsboro, would clearly define “personal accounts” and would enable employers to monitor “employer-issued communications devices,” such as computers and phones.

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association also supports the amendment. However, it still has issues. “As a result of amendments made in the Assembly, we feel the bill is moving in the right direction in protecting the privacy rights of individuals while preserving the rights and responsibilities of employers to conduct workplace investigations,” said Stephanie Riehl, assistant vice president at NJBIA. “We do, however, still have concerns with language in the bill which provides a new right to sue employers.”

Social media and workplace privacy issues before Senate Labor Comm.