November 1, 2014 marks the start of a new law here in Oklahoma for employers, employees, and potential employees. No longer can an employer ask for or gain your passwords for your private social media accounts to view any type of private information that is not made public. Oklahoma is not the first state in the US to ban employers from gaining access to personal social media accounts. These laws are created so that they override any employer’s policy that requires both applicants and employees to give their employer access to their personal accounts. Oklahoma’s new law will cover any employer that has one or more employees that they pay a salary or wages or that they contract or subcontract.
According to the new law, an employer in Oklahoma cannot require their employees or any one applying for a job to give their user names, passwords, and other authenticating information for any personal social media account. It also prohibits employers from accessing an employee’s or applicant’s personal social media accounts to gain access to anything not available to the public. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this, such as if the access is part of an investigation.
On top of not allowing employers to gain access to personal social media accounts, the new Oklahoma law will also prohibit any employer in the state from taking any type of adverse action against an applicant or an employee if they refuse to provide the information.
Employer Access Still Exists – For Specific Reasons
So what will the new law permit employers to do with your personal social media accounts? Here are some areas where employers can ask for access:
Business Social Media – if an employee is accessing a computer system, social media accounts of the business, IT network information, or electronic communications device that the employer provides to the employee; or accesses any accounts or services that are provided by the employer or that the employee uses for business use.
Investigations – as mentioned above, an employer can request access to social media accounts for an investigation that is based on specific information about activities on any personal social media accounts to ensure that the employer is complying with laws, requirements, or enforcing work-related employee misconduct, or if the employee is transferring the employer’s proprietary, financial, or confidential information.
Complying With Laws – the employer can ask for access to comply with any state or federal statutes, regulations, rules, case law, or other legal issues.
Company Work Time Online – the employer can also review or access personal social media accounts that any employee chooses to use on an employer provided computer system or IT network.
About Other Types Of Access To Your Personal Social Media Accounts
If, for any reason, your employer unknowingly gains access to your personal social media accounts by accessing employer owned devices, then the employer is not liable for having that information. It is what they do with the information that can still get them in hot water. For example, if they do gain the login information to your account because you left it open at work, they cannot use the information to access the account.
The new Oklahoma law also states that an employee or applicant can file a civil suit against the employer. The employee can file for both damages and injunctive relief, but damages cannot exceed five hundred dollars for each violation of the new law. Punitive and emotional damages are not available under the new law, also employees or applicants must file any suit within six months of the alleged violation by the employer.
What Do Employees Gain From This New Law?
The net gain to you, as an employee, is a stronger protection of your privacy rights on social media. There are employers who are currently asking for access to your private social accounts. Employers should immediately amend their policies to prohibit these practices, and should review their general policies concerning social media and investigation procedures that involve social media. Employers in Oklahoma should also make it clear that no privacy rights exist on employer-provided or employer paid-for devices and that they own all rights to any content that is provided on their devices by employees.
Concerned about the new law or worried that your employer is still accessing your personal social media accounts without cause or permission? Make sure that you read our article “What Are The Risks Of Social Media When Applying For A Job” and call us for a free consultation.
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