New Social Media Privacy Laws Set the Bar

by Charlene Jimenez, AGBeat


Social media has shifted how most businesses keep track of their employees and how schools keep tabs on their students. You’ve probably read about employees being fired for things they’ve put on their social media accounts, or universities kicking out students and taking away scholarships because of posts or photos that are deemed inappropriate.

As a result, privacy protection has been a huge topic of debate, and some states, including Maryland, Illinois and California, have finally taken a stand by establishing social media privacy laws. Michigan is the latest to join the ranks, while others struggle to determine the best course of action, if considering it at all.

In Illinois, the law now states that employers will no longer be able to demand social media passwords from potential and current employees for password protected accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter. After some high-profile instances of companies demanding access to employees’ social media accounts, Congress was forced to take a hard look at this practice; however, it had no bearing on the laws being enacted on a state level. Illinois and California are the first two states to make these demands for privacy, making it a huge victory for employee rights.

All employees, however, or those who want to uphold a certain reputation, still need to be cautious in what they publish on their social media sites – employers will probably still continue to search through prospective and current employees on their public, available social networking sites. Inappropriate photos and tweets can still hinder your ability to get a job or attract clients and future business.

Michigan’s House Bill 5523 was passed on Dec. 13, 2012 and was signed by the governor on Dec. 28, 2012. The bill took effect with Governor Snyder’s signature. HB 5523 prohibits employers or schools to ask for access to employees’ and students’ social media accounts, including personal email accounts. The bill also protects the employee by stating that companies cannot discipline or fire an employee who refuses to allow access to personal accounts, and it also states that employers in Michigan cannot base a hiring decision on someone’s social accounts.

Exceptions to the new law

However, there are some exceptions. The employer still retains the right to monitor Internet usage on devices that are paid for by the company or provided to the employee for work purposes. Employers also retain the right to monitor employee usage on social accounts that are business-related or were set up in order to promote the business. And these exceptions are
quite understandable.

Those who violate this new bill face up to a $1,000 fine, and it’s classified as a misdemeanor. Employers who are found in violation can also have civil action brought against them if the employee has the right documentation and proof of the offense. At that point, the employer would also be liable for lawyer fees, plus no more than an additional $1,000.

The online social climate is changing, and social media privacy laws are finally trying to keep up. It’s a small step in the right direction, but it’s a step that will lead to bigger steps in the future.


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