Washington State Prohibits Certain Access to Employee Social Media Accounts

Social Media Policy at WorkOn May 21, 2013, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law an act that generally prohibits an employer from requiring an employee or applicant to disclose information related to their social media account. If an employer violates the act, an employee can bring an action to recover actual damages, a penalty of $500, and reasonable attorney fees and costs. Employees should educate themselves as to their rights, and employers should review their policies and procedures to ensure compliance.

Specifically, the act prohibits an employer from requesting, requiring, or coercing an employee or applicant to:

  • disclose login information for the individual’s personal social networking account;
  • access the individual’s personal social networking account in the employer’s presence;
  • add a person, including the employer, as a contact or friend associated with the individual’s personal social networking account; or
  • change the social network account settings to make the profile public.

The act also prohibits employers from taking an adverse action against any employee or applicant because they refused to do any of the above prohibited items.

There are a couple of exceptions to these prohibitions. The act does not apply to certain personal social networking accounts that are work-related. An employer can also require an employee to share content from (but may not require the employee provide access to) a personal social networking account for certain workplace investigations that involve compliance with laws or prohibitions against work-related employee misconduct, or to investigate the unauthorized transfer of the employer’s proprietary, confidential, or financial data.

Further, the act does not prohibit an employer from viewing an individual’s public profile or from “friending” an individual (without using misleading information) in order to gain access to a private profile.

Before applying this law to an individual’s situation, you should review the actual text of the law and seek legal advice. Please feel free to contact Luke Campbell should you have any questions about this law or any other legal issue.