Washington Social Media Law Regulates Employers’ Access To Employee Accounts

As a small business owner, it is imperative that you understand regulations surrounding your employees’ rights and any restrictions on your authority as an employer. Recent changes to Washington’s social media laws may affect how you gather and use information from your employees. Specifically, RCW 49.44.200 limits employers’ ability to access employee social networking accounts. The statute provides for new regulations that make it more difficult for employers to monitor employees and applicants’ personal social networking activity.

What You Cannot Do

Under the new law, it is unlawful for an employer to “request, require, or otherwise coerce an employee or applicant to disclose login information for the employee’s or applicant’s personal social networking account.” You probably noticed that the statute makes reference to personal social networking accounts, which means that employers may be able to continue to police social networking activity on work-related or business accounts.

Further, employers are restricted from requiring employees or applicants to add the employer as a “friend” or other contact on the employee or applicant’s personal social networking accounts. This statute effectively ends employers requiring (or coercing) employees to follow them on Twitter or add them as a friend on Facebook.

What You Can Do

As an employer, you may request that your employee shares social media content in the context of investigating an employee’s behavior. Your request must include all of the following:

  • It must be to make “a factual determination in the course of conducting an investigation”
  • “In response to receipt of information about the employee’s activity on his or her social networking account”
  • The purpose of the request is to verify whether the employee is “breaking the law” in some form (sharing company trade secrets, confidential information, or violating employment-related laws)
  • The request does not include any request for login information for the employee’s accounts.

An employer can also request information regarding any account that is maintained or supplied by the employer, and the employer may request information and demand possession of an electronic device owned by the employer.

In situations where an employer accidentally stumbled upon login information for an employee’s personal social networking accounts, the employer cannot use the information to access the account. It is important as an employer to not access your employee’s personal social networking accounts even if you inadvertently stumble upon the login information. Accessing the accounts will open you and your business up to liabilities, including potential law suits and monetary penalties.

To learn more about the steps you can take to protect your small business from violating Washington’s new social media laws, check out Daniel Shortt’s article on the iVLG blog.

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