A consumer and voter advocacy group has launched an online petition drive seeking support for a pair of bills in the Texas Legislature that would prevent employers from asking employees to provide their passwords to social media sites.
The petition's sponsor, SignOn.org, which is associated with the political activist organization MoveOn.org, says it will present the signatures to Texas lawmakers as a means of swaying them to support "SB 118 and HB 318, measures that make it illegal for employers to ask employees for this private information."
Keeping workers' passwords private
"Workers or people seeking employment in Texas should never be forced to hand over private social media passwords in order to gain employment. Yet, across the state, that is exactly what's happening," the petition states.
"Social media passwords are private, just as personal email, personal mail and phone conversations are. They have no place in the employment process," it says.
The group says six states, including Illinois and California, have already passed measures prohibiting employers from inquiring about employees' social media passwords. Several others are considering similar legislation, JDSupra Law News reports.
As of this writing, the petition contained more than 8,850 signatures.
In the House, legislation was filed by state Rep. Helen Giddings, and in the Senate, legislation was filed by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, both Democrats. The bills read, in part:
(b) An employer commits an unlawful employment practice if the employer requires or requests that an employee or applicant for employment disclose a user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account of the employee or applicant, including a personal e-mail account or a social networking website account or profile, through an electronic communication device.
(c) This section does not prohibit an employer from:
(1) maintaining lawful workplace policies governing:
(A) employee usage of employer-provided electronic communication devices, including employee access to personal accounts on those devices; or
(B) employee usage of personal electronic communication devices during working hours;
(2) monitoring employee usage of employer-provided electronic communication devices or employer-provided e-mail accounts; or
(3) obtaining information about an employee or applicant for employment that is in the public domain or that is otherwise lawfully obtained.
Travis Crabtree, an attorney at Looper Reed & McGraw, P.C., a law firm in Dallas, said he had some problems with the Texas version.
For one thing, he wrote in an op-ed piece for JDSupra Law News, the Texas bills contain no exemption for employers to investigate wrongdoing.
"For example," he wrote, "Michigan lays out some exceptions that exclude 'Disciplining or discharging an employee for transferring the employer's proprietary or confidential information or financial data to an employee's personal internet account without the employer's authorization'; and 'conducting an investigation or requiring an employee to cooperate in an investigation...'"
Crabtree went on to say the Texas measures don't contain an exemption for a highly-regulated industry like securities.
No 'shoulder surfing' either
"The Michigan law exempts employers 'if there is specific information about activity on the employee's personal internet account, for the purpose of ensuring compliance with applicable laws, regulatory requirements, or prohibitions against work-related employee misconduct,'" he wrote.
What if an employer simply peers over an employee's shoulder to gain passwords?
The Texas bill "forbids employers from using 'other means for accessing a personal account' but there is a qualifier at the end that seems to limit the employer's access to the account 'through an electronic communication device,'" Crabtree wrote. "So, can an employer tell an applicant or employee to log-in to Facebook while I look over your shoulder? It is certainly not clear."
He said other states have taken a much more direct approach.
"The California law expressly forbids requiring an employee to 'access personal social media in the presence of the employer,' which would prevent shoulder surfing," he said.