Maryland may ban employers from asking for social media passwords

Maryland is likely to become the first state to ban employers from requesting the user names and passwords of social media accounts for potential new hires. The bill follows a public uproar after a jobseeker spoke of the request by a potential employer igniting a controversy about privacy and the limits of what can be asked for when interviewing candidates for open positions.

Robert Collins, a former corrections officer in Maryland, said he was asked for his Facebook account information while being recertified for his job following a leave of absence. When this became known through press accounts, social media websites lit up with comments both for and against the practice. According to the Associated Press the Maryland department of corrections assessed 2,689 applications, showing that seven candidates were rejected in part because of information found on their social media profiles.

Collins said that he felt violated by the review and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint on his behalf. Seven other states are pursuing bills of the same type according to the Nationla Conference of State Legislatures. Other states like Illinois have also recently banned employers from running credit checks on potential new hires.

At the federal level, Attorney General Eric Holder has also been asked to investigate whether or not asking for such information violates federal law.

Even if employers are prohibited from logging in as the person they are investigating, employer snooping through public information on social media sites is increasingly common. Online job applications are also asking candidates to “like” their facebook pages, or provide information about their “social media presence.”

US-based law firm Haynes and Boone, noted in a post on its social media law brief that many employers are asking background check firms to include social media screening in their routine background checks of potential employees. According to the attorney’s asking a third party to perform the screening and only report back relevant, legal information is necessary in order to avoid violating equal opportunity employment rules.

“Pre-screening applicants via their social media can lead to the discovery of information regarding the applicant that may be illegal to consider during the interview process. For example, via social media, an employer could discover an individual’s age, religious affiliation, genetic information or disability.”

They further note that if social media profiles are accessed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, employers are required to provide a two step reporting process back to potential candidates notifying them of why they were overlooked.

“The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) recently indicated that the FCRA does apply to a consumer reporting agency’s social media check, when it investigated Social Intelligence Corporation, a consumer reporting agency that conducts background checks that include information from individuals’ social media,” the attorneys write.

Governor O’Malley has said that he is reviewing the legislation and has not yet made a decision about signing the bill.