Washington State has banned employers from generally requiring employees to turn over their personal social media credentials. Earlier this week, Washington Governor Inslee signed SB 521 that will protect Washington state employers from becoming required to hire social media monitoring companies to review the personal digital accounts of their employees.
This law may save Washington employers tens of millions of dollars in potential costs associated with social media monitoring the personal digital accounts of employees and it will protect the personal privacy of employees. This includes the costs associated with hiring social media monitoring companies, increased cyber liability insurance costs, and legal fees and judgements inherent with negligent social media monitoring. The law was enacted because some companies are contacting employers, in particular colleges, to sell them social media monitoring services that are legal liability time bombs.
If an employer is monitoring the personal digital accounts of their employees and misses an issue that may indicate an employee may be violating the law and the employer does not report this information to the proper authorities in a timely manner the employer may have tremendous legal liability. A handful of emails from more than 10 years ago appears to be the main evidence that several high level administrators at Penn State knew that Jerry Sandusky was molesting young boys on its campus. Absent the digital evidence, it would have been much more difficult to prove that some Penn State employees allegedly knew about Jerry Sandusky's illegal activities. The email evidence so far appears to have cost Penn State almost $50 million dollars in fines, legal and investigatory fees, and other related costs.
The only way for an employer to know whether a particular personal digital account belongs to an employee is if it verifies that the account belongs to the person whom it claims to represent. In other words, for a social media monitoring service to properly work an employee must at a minimum authentic his personal social media user name. In general, verifying a personal social media user name violates Washington's SB 521 along with laws in approximately ten other states. Therefore, Washington employers, including schools may not utilize social media monitoring companies to track their employees' personal digital accounts.
To learn how to properly handle social media issues in your company or school you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com.
Copyright 2013 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.