Following a national trend, Montana and Virginia have become the nineteenth and twentieth states to enact laws restricting employer access to the social media accounts of applicants and employees.
Virginia’s law, which takes effect on July 1, 2015, prohibits requesting (or requiring) the disclosure of usernames and/or passwords to an individual’s social media account. In addition, the law prohibits any requirement to change privacy settings or add a manager to the “friend” or contact list associated with a particular social media account. In addition to prohibiting the disclosure of usernames and passwords, under Montana’s new law, which took effect April 23, 2015, an employer is prohibited from requiring the disclosure of any information associated with a social media account or requesting an employee or applicant access a social media account in the presence of the employer. As is common with such legislation, both statutes contain an anti-retaliation provision that prohibits an employer from taking any adverse actions against individual that exercise his or her rights under the law.
Notably, these statutes apply only to personal social media accounts meaning accounts opened on behalf or at the request of the employer are not protected. Employers are also still free to view information contained in personal social media accounts that is publically available. Virginia’s law also includes an exception that permits employers to request login information if the employer has a “reasonable belief” the account is “relevant” to a “formal investigation or related proceeding” concerning the violation of a federal, state, or local law.
As the legal landscape associated with social media accounts continues to evolve, employers should review their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with all relevant statutory provisions.