On March 23, 2015, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe approved a social media password privacy bill (H.B. 2081) that limits employers access to employees’ and job applicants’ personal social media accounts. Effective July 1, Virginia employers are prohibited from requiring current or prospective employees to share login credentials or add a supervisor as a contact on their personal account. Employers also will be prohibited from retaliating against employees or refusing to hire job applicants for exercising such social media privacy rights. While Virginia has a reputation as an “employer-friendly” state, the law imposes relatively substantial restrictions on such access by Virginia employers (public or private). There are certain exceptions permitting employers to comply with federal, state or local laws and the rules of self-regulatory organizations. Eighteen other states have a similar workplace social media password privacy law.
Like the legislation enacted in other states, Virginia’s new law generally prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring that applicants or employees disclose the username and password for their social media accounts. The law also prohibits any employer from requiring that applicants or employees add the employer’s employee, supervisor, or administrator to the list of contacts associated with their social media account. Virginia’s law does not include prohibitions against other methods for circumventing user-created restrictions on access to social media accounts present in most other similar laws. In line with the majority of password protection laws, Virginia’s new law provides certain exceptions to protect employers’ legitimate business interests. Virginia’s law does not provide for a private cause of action or any mechanism for administrative enforcement, so it is unclear how the new law will be enforced. Best practices for employers is not to seek access to employees’ and applicants’ personal online content except where there is a strong business interest for doing so that is recognized in applicable privacy law. H.B. 2081 is available at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?151+ful+HB2081ER+pdf.