A new law which took effect on December 1, 2013 makes New Jersey the latest of a growing number of states – including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington – that prohibit employers from requesting access to the social media accounts of current or prospective employees. The law also prohibits employers from retaliating or discriminating against any such individual who either refuses to provide such access or who complains about what he or she believes to be a violation of the law.
The law applies only to those social media accounts that are the exclusive personal property of the employee or prospective employee such as a personal Facebook account and does not apply to such accounts that are run by the employee, but are the employer’s property. Employers are, however, permitted to obtain access to private accounts for the purposes of ensuring legal or regulatory compliance, investigating employment-related misconduct or investigating a potential disclosure of the employer’s proprietary or confidential information. The law does not prohibit employers from accessing accounts its employees use for business-related purposes, and employer review of material that current or prospective employees post publicly on an otherwise private social media account remains lawful.
Enforcement of New Jersey’s social media law is left solely to the state’s Department of Labor; the law does not provide individuals with a private right of action. Companies may be fined up to $1,000 for their first violation and $2,500 for violations thereafter.