Lawmakers in Maryland have voted to prohibit employers from asking workers or job applicants for their passwords to social media accounts.
The measure (SB 433/HB 964), which passed in a landslide, currently awaits the governor's signature. The bill moved forward shortly after press reports surfaced about employers throughout the country asking prospective employees for their Facebook passwords.
While the reports rightly sparked concern, the total number of employers to do so appears to be quite low. One of the few known examples, however, occurred in Maryland, where the state corrections agency was asking employees for their Facebook passwords.
It's worth noting that the bill doesn't address what's probably a far more widespread employer practice -- scouring social media sites for job applicants' publicly available posts in order to discover the kind of information people might not volunteer in job interviews.
No question, that's not the same as asking job applicants for their Facebook passwords. Nonetheless, the practice can raise similar legal issues. Consider, it's illegal to discriminate against job applicants based on factors like marital status, religion, medical conditions, and whether they have children. What's more, it's illegal even to ask applicants about those topics.
Employers who obtain a job seeker's Facebook password might be able to obtain that type of information without ever posing a direct question to applicants -- which is one reason the practice is so troubling.
But in some cases, employers who merely access people's publicly available posts can obtain the same type of data. Of course, it would still be illegal for a company to base employment decisions on matters like religion or health conditions. But rejected job applicants likely won't ever know that they lost out on a job because of information available to the public at large on Facebook.
If signed by the governor, the Maryland bill will go into effect in October.