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Asking for Passwords? You May Be Asking for Trouble

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

Americans strongly oppose allowing bosses to obtain their employees' social media passwords, a new survey reveals.

Many employers may be drawn to the idea of requiring workers to divulge their social media passwords as a condition of employment. But the overwhelming majority of workers don't think it's a good idea, according FindLaw's survey of 1,000 Americans (with a margin of error of 3 percent).

Here are a few of the FindLaw survey's key points:

  • 83 percent of American adults say that employers should not be allowed to obtain passwords to personal social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
  • Only 7 percent of people surveyed said it was OK for employers to have their social network passwords.
  • 10 percent were unsure about whether the practice is OK.

Moral of the Story: Be Careful

But is this even a real issue? After all, only 3 percent of surveyed adults said they have been asked by an employer to turn over their social media passwords.

Nevertheless, at least 10 states have now passed laws that prevent employers from requesting passwords to personal online accounts as a condition of employment, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Similar legislation is pending in at least 26 other states, according to the FindLaw survey.

Even in states where the practice is technically legal, employers may want to think twice before collecting employees' social media passwords. Such a practice could actually expose the company to liability stemming from an invasion of employee privacy. Particular concerns include accessing an employee's social media accounts and unwittingly discovering an employee's protected characteristics, such as religious preferences, confidential medical information, and arrests that didn't lead to convictions.

Even if employees don't pursue legal recourse over your password collection policy, social media giants like Facebook might. Last year, Facebook's chief privacy officer announced that the company could initiate legal action against employers who ask for job seekers' Facebook passwords.

If you're considering a password collection policy, you want to get an experienced employment attorney to "Like" it first.

Follow FindLaw for Consumers on Google+.

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