Virginia Joins Nationwide Trend Limiting Employers’ Access To Employees’ Social Media Accounts

Allen Matkins

Effective July 1, 2015, employers in Virginia will have to comply with a new law limiting their access to employees’ and applicants’ social media accounts. The new law prohibits employers from requiring employees or applicants (1) to disclose usernames and passwords for their personal social media accounts and (2) to add the employer or fellow employees to their contact lists for personal social media accounts. Employers also are prohibited from disciplining or threatening to discipline an employee in retaliation for the employee’s refusal to comply with a request that violates the new law.

The new law’s definition of social media accounts expressly excludes accounts opened by an employee at the employer’s request and accounts opened by an employee on behalf of the employer.

The new law states that it does not affect “an employer’s existing rights or obligations to request an employee to disclose his username and password for the purpose of accessing a social media account if the employee’s social media account activity is reasonably believed to be relevant to a formal investigation or related proceeding by the employer of allegations of an employee’s violation of federal, state, or local laws or regulations or of the employer’s written policies.” Thus, it would appear that employers, in some situations, legally may demand that an employee provide his or her username and password to a personal social account in the context of an internal investigation.

Virginia is the 19th state to enact legislation that limits employers’ access to employees’ and/or job applicants’ social media accounts.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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