No More Friend Me or You’re Fired: Walker Signs Bill to Regulate Employer Access to Employee Social Media Sites

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April 11, 2014

On April 8, Gov. Scott Walker signed the Wisconsin Social Media Protection Act. Prudent Wisconsin employers should make sure to understand how this law affects both workplace and recruiting practices.

With some exceptions, the Wisconsin Social Media Protection Act prohibits employers from requesting that employees provide passwords for (or any access to) an employee’s personal Internet account, such as Facebook. According to legislation proponents, this law was necessary to prevent employees from retaliation and intimidation in the workplace. Under the new law, management is unable to pressure an employee to reveal what the employee wrote – or what a “friend” might have written – about the company on a social media website. It further prohibits employers from refusing to hire an applicant for employment because the applicant refused to disclose access information for, grant access to, or allow observation of the applicants personal Internet account.

The exceptions to the Act allow an employer to engage in the following conduct:

  • Request a password to gain access to any device that is paid for or provided by the employer;
  • Request a password to gain access to any account or service provided by the employer;
  • Discharge an employee for transferring employer confidential information to his/her personal Internet account;
  • Request that an employee allow the employer access to a personal Internet site, if the employer has reasonable cause to believe that employee has violated employer policies and needs to conduct an investigation (employer still may not ask for the password in these cases).

Wisconsin joins several states who have enacted similar laws, including its neighbor Michigan. Further, the federal law known as the Stored Communications Act also prohibits employers from similar conduct, and other federal legislation has been introduced that would further protect employees on the federal level, including The Social Networking Online Protection Act and the Password Protection Act of 2013 (PPA).

If you have questions regarding the above, please contact Sara Ackermann, the author of this article, or any of the attorneys in the Employment, Benefits & Labor Relations Practice Group of Ruder Ware.

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