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New York state law limits employer access to employees’ social media logins

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A new law went into effect last week in New York that limits what information employers or prospective employers can ask for when it comes to social media.

The law largely governs how personal accounts are dealt with in the workplace, leaving carve-outs for work-related accounts.

The bill’s sponsor, state Senator Jessica Ramos, said in a statement that the law is intended to galvanize the separation between an employee’s work life and personal life.

“A worker’s life outside of the workplace is their own and that separation must be respected,” she told Spectrum News 1 in a statement. “Especially post-pandemic with more workers working remotely, this law will firm up a boundary between a worker’s private life their professional sphere. I encourage workers to assert their rights and report to the State Department of Labor if their managers try to access their personal social media accounts.”

Legal experts say it’s a good time for employees and employers to familiarize themselves with what exactly the new law means.

“You’re going to want to review all of your policies, make sure you’re in compliance, make sure you’re not asking your employees to give you this stuff,” Jared Cook, employment attorney at Tully Rinckey, said of employers.

He said the law primarily prevents employers from requesting user names, passwords, or other login information for personal social media accounts.

It also makes it illegal to make an employee or applicant access those accounts in the employer’s presence, or require them to reproduce any posts, including photographs, videos, or other information, but that’s not all.

“They make it illegal to request or coerce or require an employee to give you that information, and they also make it illegal for an employer to fire you, or threaten you, or retaliate against you for not providing that,” he said.

He stressed the law does not prohibit employers or prospective employers from viewing an employees’ or applicants’ personal accounts.

“If your account is public, they can monitor it just like any other but they would have to find it,” he said. “What they can’t do is require you to give them your handle, or your handle and login.”

Cook says there are exceptions and employers are free to setup employee accounts for their workers.

Employers can require employees to disclose login information if it was made clear to an employee that an account or device is provided by the employer for business purposes, or is known by the employer to be used for business purposes.

Another exception is accessing an account to comply with a court order, or restricting access to websites on a work device or network paid for by the employer.

As for when employees should be on the lookout, he says employers shouldn’t be requesting usernames or passwords to crack down on venting about your job, or to use your personal social media for their promotion.

“Situations where maybe you’ve already build up a large social media following, and the employer says ‘OK, we want you to use your large following to promote our businesses,’” Cook said.

Cook encouraged employees to be aware of these things and be willing to be open with employers or potential employers about any concerns you have and seek legal advice if necessary.

He says the law does not specify repercussions for employers who don’t comply, but says possible avenues for legal action include lawsuits and seeking reinstatement through whistleblower laws.

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