FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2013-01-17
The New Jersey Senate has approved a bill that protects the social media privacy rights of employees, job applicants and college students in the state. The bill is one measure to keep privacy rights up-to-date with new technology that is increasingly integrating work and personal lives.
New Jersey may enact new worker privacy laws
This past October, the New Jersey Senate unanimously passed two New Jersey Assembly bills that protect the privacy rights of job applicants, employees and college students. Violating the protections in either bill would carry a $2,500 fine.
The first bill protects the social media privacy rights of employees and job applicants. It would prohibit employers from asking current employees or prospective employees for their usernames and passwords to social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter. The Senate added an exception to the Assembly’s bill that exempts law enforcement from the prohibition.
The second bill provides similar social media privacy protections to college students and prospective students. Schools may not ask their students or applicants to divulge their usernames and passwords to social media accounts. Once signed by the governor, these bills will provide an update to existing privacy rights laws.
An overview of employee privacy rights
Privacy rights of employees and job applicants are under constant scrutiny and continually evolve to adapt to workplace and personal technology. New Jersey’s social media privacy bills are only the latest measures taken to protect and define employee and job applicant privacy rights.
Before social media privacy became a controversial topic, an employee’s privacy rights in regard to workplace Internet usage was, and continues to be, a hot-button issue. Current privacy laws give employees little privacy protection for their online activity at work. For example, emails sent from a work computer are considered the property of the company, not the employee, and can be used as evidence in misconduct and other cases against the employee.
Likewise, employers are free to block workers from accessing certain websites, can track the online activity of employees and limit workers’ time online or on certain websites.
Employees enjoy more privacy rights regarding phone calls and voicemail. Though employers are able to monitor work calls, the Electronics Communications Privacy Act prohibits employers from monitoring personal phone calls and voicemail unless the employee gives his or her consent. Recently, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an employee’s text messages can be monitored by employers, even if the texts were of a personal nature.
Lastly, employers reserve the right to search the physical property of an employee in that employee’s work area. Desks and other work stations technically belong to the employer, which gives them the right to search. However, employers are generally unable to search an employee’s car, unless it is a company car.
Employee privacy rights are controversial and constantly evolving. Learning more about your rights at the workplace will protect you in the event of alleged wrongdoing. If you believe your privacy rights were violated at work, please contact an experienced employment law attorney who can help you understand your rights and any compensation to which you may be entitled.