News Column

Bill to Ban Demands for Access to Workers' Web Pages Advances

Sept. 21, 2012
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New Jersey workers could be free from having to hand over their Facebook passwords to their employers if a bill advanced by a Senate committee Thursday becomes law.

The bill would prohibit employers from demanding access to the social media accounts of employees or prospective employees.

Employees could sue if they thought their employer violated the law, and the company could also face civil penalties.

"Our workers are being forced to choose between privacy and employment, between privacy and an income," Claudia Reis, president of the National Employment Lawyers Association/New Jersey, told the committee. "This is a choice no employee in this great state of ours should be required to make."

The Senate Labor Committee also approved a bill prohibiting colleges and universities from demanding access to the social media accounts of their students or applicants.

Several business representatives objected to allowing employees to sue their employers. They argued that ambiguities within the bill could cause confusion and that angry former employees could file frivolous suits against their employers, costing companies a significant amount of money.

The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce was concerned about "the potential high legal cost for employers" and the "gray area of interpretation and implementation" of the legislation, Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the chamber, told the committee.

Adding one more potential legal liability for businesses could discourage companies from staying in New Jersey, said Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, a member of the committee who abstained from voting on the bill.

"When we're trying to keep businesses in this state, I don't think we need to put another roadblock in there," Bucco said.

Despite the business concerns, the bill - a similar version of which has already passed the Assembly - was advanced unanimously out of the committee. It will now go to the full Senate for a vote.

If the bill becomes law, it will include a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for a company's first violation and a $2,500 penalty for each subsequent violation.

A statement from Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, indicated the bill is timely, citing recent national news stories. Sweeney's office, in that statement said, "Prospective employers were reviewing job applicants' social media accounts to get answers to questions they could not legally ask."

"The fact that employers were using social networking sites to skirt the law is deplorable. This legislation will close that loophole and allow people at least some piece of privacy in their lives," said Sweeney, one of the bill's sponsors.



Source: (C) 2012 The Record, Bergen County, NJ. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved


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