The Employer's Legal Resource: New Oklahoma Law Restricts Employer Access to Employee Social Media Accounts
Oklahoma has joined the growing rank of states that have adopted laws governing employer access to employee social media accounts. H.B. 2372, which becomes effective November 1, gives strong deference to employee privacy in social media accounts.
The new law prohibits employers from requiring current or prospective employees to provide information that would allow employers access to their social media accounts. Employers may not require employees (or prospective employees) to provide their username and password to any social media account, such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, even if the employee accesses his social media account on the employer's equipment. Employers also cannot require the employee to login to a social media account with the employer present. In addition, an employer may not retaliate against a current employee or refuse to hire a prospective employee solely because he refuses to provide his login information or access a social media account in the employer's presence.
Of course, the new law makes clear that employers are justified in requiring the employee to disclose user name and password information for accessing computer systems, IT networks, and devices that are owned or subsidized by the employer. And when the employer provides or subsidizes the service–such as email–the employee must provide her password when requested.
Nothing in the new law prohibits employers from monitoring the activities of its employees when using the employer's computers, networks, or mobile devices, and the new law recognizes that, in doing so, the employer may inadvertently discover an employee's social media passwords. In that case, the employer is not liable merely for having that information. But, the employer cannot use it to access any private employee accounts.
Employers who violate the law may face civil actions by their employees (or their prospective employees), although damages are limited to $500 per violation, and neither punitive nor emotional distress damages are available. Injunctive relief is available for employees who meet a heightened standard of proof.
The law applies to all employers located in Oklahoma, whether public or private.
By Leah M. Ward, firstname.lastname@example.org