Protecting Privacy: New York State’s Social Media Access Law

In a world where digital presence is ubiquitous, protecting personal privacy in the workplace is paramount. Recognizing this, New York State has enacted a groundbreaking law aimed at safeguarding the privacy of employees and job applicants in the realm of social media.

As of March 12, 2024, employers in New York State are now prohibited from requesting access to an employee’s or job applicant’s social media accounts. This means employers cannot ask for usernames, passwords, or any other login information that would grant access to private social media accounts.

Moreover, individuals cannot be coerced into providing access to their social media accounts or sharing content from those accounts as a condition of employment or consideration for a job. This crucial provision ensures that individuals maintain control over their personal online presence and are not subjected to undue scrutiny or invasion of privacy by their employers.

Equally significant is the prohibition against employers penalizing or retaliating against employees or job applicants who refuse to share their social media account information. This protection ensures that individuals can assert their rights without fear of reprisal in the workplace.

However, the law does contain exceptions to accommodate legitimate employer interests. Employers are still permitted to access publicly shared content on social media platforms when investigating misconduct. Additionally, access is allowed in situations where there is a legal obligation, when employees use employer-provided social media accounts, or when access is restricted on employer-provided equipment.

Crucially, the law extends its coverage beyond traditional social media platforms to encompass any forum involving user-generated content. This includes blogs, video platforms, and other forms of user-shared media, reflecting the evolving nature of online communication and content creation.

For individuals who believe their rights under this law have been violated, legal recourse is available. Any non-compliance with the legislation on or after March 12, 2024, is actionable under state law. In such cases, seeking assistance from an employment law attorney is advisable to explore available options and remedies.

New York State’s social media access law represents a significant step forward in safeguarding privacy rights in the digital age. By establishing clear boundaries between personal and professional spheres, the law ensures fair treatment and respect for individuals’ privacy in the workplace. It sets a precedent for other jurisdictions to follow in prioritizing privacy and autonomy in an increasingly connected world.

Censoring your Social Media Page for Employment

Companies are using social media websites as an information gateway in hiring and monitoring employee behavior.  Sites like Facebook and Twitter are influential in the hiring process for employers, and can also result in termination if they see information that is not “appropriate employee behavior.”  Employers monitor social networking sites for provocative or inappropriate photos, drinking and drug use, bad-mouthing coworkers and much more.  They even measure your communication and creativity skills from monitoring your social networking sites.
While we all use our social networking sites to display information regarding our private life for friends and family, employers fear that proprietary information will be revealed over the web and they will be negatively represented in the online world.  If you are looking for a job or currently employed, follow this list of Do’s and Don’ts to clean up your page and remain in the safety zone of social media.

  1. DO delete or hide anything on your profile that employers may view negatively.  Remove pictures of spring break, vulgar comments or posts, rude language, and any commentary you may have posted about previous employers.  Remember there is no sense of “free speech” that is regulated in social media.  We’ve all heard the recent stories of New York teachers being fired for their online commentary of unruly classrooms and scandalous private lives.  It can happen to anyone, so keep your private thoughts and comments about your job to yourself.
  2. DON’T use social networking sites to vent about your job.  While you may need to talk about an overpowering boss or an arrogant coworker, never do it online.  While you may think your page is private, a coworker that you forgot you “friended” could take the page directly to your employer.  What you say online is permanent and is valid evidence that can be used against you in court and certainly by your employer or prospective employer.
  3. DO promote yourself socially and professionally online.  Update your pages to show your creativity and work ethic.  Write about accomplishments that you have made inside and outside of work.  Include your interests and passions and your goals.
  4. DON’T post anything that could be incompatible with your work persona.  For example, if you claim a disability or injury that alters your job responsibilities, refrain from posting pictures of you partaking in physical exercise.  If you are claiming worker’s compensation, investigators will often look at your social media sites to ensure that they are consistent with your claims.  An employer cannot discriminate against you because of disabilities, but you can be terminated if they unveil inconsistencies within your social media pages.