Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee recently signed the 2014 Student and Employee Social Media Privacy Acts into law. In a press release, lawmakers said that the new law was modeled on similar laws in California that are “considered one of the nation’s strongest social-media privacy laws in the nation.”
Under this new law, employers cannot 1) require an employee or applicant to disclose social-media information, including their username, password, or other means of access to an account; 2) require or compel an employee or applicant to add someone to their list of contacts associated with a social-media account as a condition of employment; or 3) discharge, discipline, or penalize an employee for refusing to divulge social-media information to the organization.
The law also creates a private right of action for employees to sue their employers seeking declaratory relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees.
We suggest that you review your company’s applications, interview practices, and social-media policies to ensure that they do not in any way seek employees’ usernames, passwords, or any similar social-media information. You should also make your managers aware of this law and instruct them not to “friend” or accept other social-media requests from their subordinates without approval.
While interacting on social media might seem like a fun way to build camaraderie, these activities could be construed as violations of this law by a disgruntled employee. The best way to protect against liability is to avoid such interactions altogether.