WASHINGTON: Governor signs bill protecting employee social media privacy
Governor Jay Inslee has signed a bill that prevents Washington employers from asking an employee to provide a password, “friend” the employer, or alter privacy settings on personal social media accounts.
Governor Jay Inslee has signed a bill that prevents Washington employers from asking an employee to provide a password, “friend” the employer, or alter privacy settings on personal social media accounts. However, an important carve-out allows employers to require content from a social networking site in the course of an investigation of illegal activity, work-related misconduct, or a leak of the employer’s proprietary, confidential, or financial information (SSB 5211, 2013 Wash Laws Chap 330). It takes effect on July 28, 2013.
Tips: Vigilant has traditionally advised members to conduct verbal interview investigations instead of accessing private social media sites (even if an employee offers a print-out or screen shot), to avoid privacy claims. This is in part because an employee can voluntarily give you information one minute and claim coercion the next, especially after facing peer pressure when everyone finds out the boss saw the Facebook page. However, SSB 5211 could be used to counter potential privacy claims, especially if your handbook warns employees that their employment may be affected by any content they post online, even from home on a personal site. Letting employees know that you may request content in certain situations might hammer the point home and make them think twice before harassing each other online. See our “Social Networking Policy” (6310). Contact Vigilant if you have questions or if you would like to learn more about ongoing counsel on issues like this and more.
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