Internet passwords – Don’t ask, don’t tell!

January 15, 2013

Social media contains a treasure trove of information useful in the business world and helps many companies worldwide target their clients’ needs with much more accuracy than past methods. However, when it comes to personal email and/or social media and the workplace, the key word here is ‘personal’.

EctoHR, Inc. would never recommend that employers ask for login information to personal email and/or social media. There are at least two key legal impacts when attempting to limit or guide employee’s personal communication:

• The right to Free Speech guaranteed in the U.S. constitution.

• The National Labor Relations Act, which protects employee’s right to organize and collectively communicate regarding work conditions. This allows employees to share compensation information, talk about negative aspects at work, etc., in a safe arena without fear of retribution.

State Action

Michigan, Maryland, Illinois and California have already passed law regarding internet privacy.

In Michigan, the new Internet Privacy Protection Act prohibits access to passwords for social media, email and other personal internet accounts.

The law prohibits employers from requiring an employee or applicant for employment from providing security information that could be used to access personal internet accounts like Facebook and Twitter. The law also protects employees and applicants from retribution for refusing access to personal accounts.

However, the Michigan law does permit an employer to:

• access electronic devices paid for by the employer;

• access accounts provided by the employer or used for the employer’s business purposes;

• discipline or discharge an employee for transferring the employer’s proprietary information or data to an employee’s personal internet account without the employer’s authorization; and

• conduct investigations regarding activity on an employee’s personal internet account to ensure compliance with applicable laws or prohibitions against work-related misconduct.

Violation of the Michigan law is considered a misdemeanor and punishable by fines. An employee may also bring civil action against the employer, which may open the employer up to significant liability.

Do you have concerns over an employee’s use of social media or personal accounts? Is your company’s proprietary information at risk? For advice from an HR professional Contact EctoHR at 810.534.0170, or send an email to hr@ectohr.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *