Vermont Law Restricts Employer Access to Social Media Accounts of Employees and Applicants

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On January 1, 2018,  Vermont House Bill 462 (H. 462) took effect and added a new section to the Vermont Statutes Annotated (V.S.A.) relating to social media privacy for employees that restricts the access to and use of social media accounts of employees and applicants by employers.

Signed into law by Vermont Governor Phil Scott on May 17, 2017, the Act adds a new section – 21 V.S.A. § 495k SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNT PRIVACY; PROHIBITIONS – that prevents employers from requiring, requesting, or coercing employees or applicants to do any of the following:

  • Disclose a username, password, or other means of authentication, or turn over an unlocked personal electronic device for the purpose of accessing the employee’s or applicant’s social media account;
  • Access a social media account in the presence of the employer;
  • Divulge or present any content from the employee’s or applicant’s social media account; or
  • Change the account or privacy settings of the employee’s or applicant’s social media account to increase third-party access to its contents.

H. 462 defines “social media account” as an account with an electronic medium or service where users create, share, and interact with content, including videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant or text messages, e-mail, online services or accounts, or Internet website profiles or locations.

The Act prevents employers from requiring or coercing employees or applicants to add anyone – including the employer – to their list of contacts for a social media account. However, the law allows employers to request employees to share specifically identified content for the purpose of:

  • Complying with the employer’s legal and regulatory obligations;
  • Investigating an allegation of the unauthorized transfer or disclosure of an employer’s proprietary or confidential information or financial data through an employee’s or an applicant’s social media account; or
  • Investigating an allegation of unlawful harassment, threats of violence in the workplace, or discriminatory or disparaging content concerning another employee.

“Specifically identified content” is defined as any data, information, or other content stored in a social media account that is identified with sufficient particularity to distinguish the individual piece of content being sought from any other data, information, or content stored in the account.

“Social media account” does not include an account provided by an employer or intended to be used on behalf of an employer. “Specifically identified content” shall not include a username, password, or other means of authentication for the purpose of accessing an employee’s or applicant’s social media account.

As of January 2018, twenty-six states have enacted social media privacy laws that prevent employers from requesting passwords to personal Internet accounts from job applicants and employees in order to get or keep a job, according to National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) offers a complimentary whitepaper – “Ten Potential Dangers of Using Social Media Background Checks” – as an introduction to social media screening. To download it, please visit www.esrcheck.com/Tools-Resources/Whitepaper-Library/Social-Media-Background-Checks/.

ESR Offers Social Media Background Screening

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – a leading global background check firm – can help employers implement a legally compliant social media screening program and develop a social media screening policy. To learn more, please visit www.esrcheck.com/Background-Checks/Social-Media-Screening/.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

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