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States begin to protect employee privacy on social networking websites

Earlier this month, Illinois became the latest state to pass a law that prohibits employers from requiring job applicants and employees to give employers access to their profiles on social networking websites like Facebook. Maryland and Delaware have also passed similar laws. Illinois, Maryland, and Delaware enacted these laws because some employers had begun to ask job applicants for their social networking website usernames and passwords during interviews.

“Employers certainly aren’t allowed to ask for the keys to an employee’s home to nose around there, and I believe that same expectation of personal privacy and personal space should be extended to a social networking account,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who sponsored the legislation in the Illinois state senate.

Employees and applicants have far fewer privacy rights than some people may think. For instance, while Sen. Radogno’s quote above makes sense, it is certainly an open question in Maine and many other states whether a private employer could ever legally require an employee to give him permission to “nose around” his home. Indeed, when employees have to miss work due to a health condition, some employers will conduct surveillance at the employee’s home to determine whether he is actually unable to work–and, with some exceptions, this can be done legally. With respect to internet privacy, Maine does not yet have a law to prohibit employers from asking employees and applicants for access to their social networking sites. As such, you should be particularly careful about what you put on your social network profile if you think your employer or a prospective employer may want to look at it.