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New York City Employment Law Needs to Catch Up to Social Media

It appears New York employment law is falling behind the times.Our employment litigation attorneys have been closely following the news out of Illinois, which is poised to become the second state to protect employees and prospective employees from being forced to divulge their passwords and log in information to their private social media sites.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is debating whether to sign the bill into law. If he does, Illinois and Maryland would be the only two states with this type of protection.

In New York, there has yet to be any serious debate among legislators at the state level about whether to press forward with a similar measure, although given the pervasiveness of social media in America and throughout the world (more than 900 million active users across the globe), this is expected to become a major point of contention between employers and employees.

Democratic U.S. Senators from both New York and Connecticut have asked that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launch an investigation into the legalities of the issue. We’ll all be waiting to hear the outcome of that.

In April, two U.S. representatives (one from New York) introduced the Social Networking Online Protection Act. If passed into federal law, it would bar employers or potential employers from mandating that employees fork over their passwords, username or other information in relation to their social networking profile.

Of course, even if it does pass, people in general need to be careful about what they post to their profile in terms of information and pictures because some of that information can be seen publicly – and there’s nothing to stop an employer or potential employer from using public information against you.

On the one hand, certain employers believe they have a strong interest in thoroughly vetting employees and prospective job candidates – to the point that the privacy of the latter is overshadowed. These primarily include in jobs where public trust is key: i.e., teaching, law enforcement and banking.

However, without legislation to stop or at least limit the process, we are giving up quite a bit in terms of personal liberty in exchange for the “privilege” of having a job.

And it’s about more than just the privacy of the employee or job candidate. That person may have hundreds of “friends” on his or her social networking site, and those individuals have the expectation that certain correspondence is private. Those individuals aren’t even given a choice about whether that correspondence is subject to review by their “friend’s” employer.

If the Social Networking Online Protection Act is passed, New York state legislators probably won’t feel compelled to push a measure at the state level, unless there are loopholes.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or contact us through the website.

Additional Resources:
Bill protecting job seekers’, employees’ social media passwords advances to Gov. Quinn, By Kristin Samuelson, Chicago Tribune reporter

More Blog Entries:
Great Neck Employment Law: Unpaid Internships, May 5, 2012, New York City Employment Lawyers