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Legislation in Olympia could allow employers to ask for a worker’s social-media passwords during company investigations.
A bill amendment proposed Tuesday could allow employers to ask for a worker’s Facebook or other social-media password during company investigations.
The provision was proposed for a bill that safeguards social-network passwords of workers and job applicants. The measure bars employers from asking for social-media credentials during job interviews.
The amendment was introduced at the House Labor Committee at the request of business groups.
In 2012 and this year, seven states banned employers from asking job applicants and employees for their social-network passwords, with some exceptions. An additional 33 states are considering similar laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Proponents say that the original bill would open an avenue for possible illegal activity by employees, such as divulging proprietary or consumer information to outsiders through social networks.
The amendment says an employer conducting an investigation may require or demand access to a personal account if an employee or prospective employee has allegations of workplace misconduct or giving away an employer’s proprietary information.
The amendment would require an investigation to ensure compliance with laws or regulatory requirements.
Under the amendment, employees would be present when their social-network profiles are searched and whatever information found is kept confidential, unless it is relevant to a criminal investigation.
“Rather than just referring everything to law enforcement, we have the opportunity to work with the employee and to investigate,” said Denny Eliason, who is representing the banking industry.
He said his clients have had cases where employees transferred sensitive information via email.
Pam Greenberg of the National Conference of State Legislatures says similar bills being considered around the country have similar provisions allowing for disclosure of passwords during investigations.
This amendment “says they have a right to enter your digital home,” said Dave Maass of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online privacy advocacy group.
“It’s astounding that they would try to codify this and that all employers could do this. … the national trend is to move away from this,” he said.
Maass said not only is an employee’s privacy violated, but so are his connections within a social network site.
The amendment “would turn this bill into a privacy bill into an employer fishing expedition,” said Shankar Narayan of the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “That’s the not the bill we signed up for.”