(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Burzichelli, Louis Greenwald, Ruben Ramos, Jr., Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D. and Marlene Caride that would bar employers and colleges from requiring current or prospective employees or students to turn over their login information for social networking websites as a condition of employment or acceptance received final legislative approval on Monday and now heads back to the governor’s desk.
The bill (A-2878) as approved incorporates several changes made by Gov. Christie in his conditional veto issued back in May while still maintaining protections for current and prospective employees.
“In this job market, especially, employers clearly have the upper hand. Demanding this information is akin to coercion when it might mean the difference between landing a job and not being able to put food on the table for your family,” said Burzichelli (D- Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “This is a huge invasion of privacy that takes ‘Big Brother’ to a whole new level. It’s really no different than asking someone to turn over a key to their house. I think the changes we approved today are sensible while maintaining the original intent of the bill.”
The legislation initially came amidst a rash of reports that private businesses and higher education institutions are demanding Facebook login information from job applicants. The lawmakers also sponsored a companion bill (A-2879) that became law in December, which now bars colleges and universities from doing the same.
The sponsors noted that the rise of social networking sites has made it more commonplace for employers to review publicly available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other such sites, however they questioned the legality of demanding login information from applicants.
“This practice is highly invasive and also begs the question of where do you draw the line,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “If an employer or college claims they’re trying to gain a perspective on the applicant’s life, what’s to stop them from trying to require the login information for a spouse or parent? With the economy still struggling to gain traction, most people don’t have the luxury of standing up to a prospective employer and denying this type of request.”
The measure that has been reapproved will prohibit an employer from requiring a current or prospective employee to provide or disclose any user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account or service through an electronic communications device. However, the bill was amended to strike the clause prohibiting employers from asking a current or prospective employee if they have a personal account or profile on a social networking website.
“If we don’t draw this line in the sand now, who knows how far this invasion of privacy might be taken,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “In an economy where employers clearly have the upper hand, we need to protect the rights of job seekers from being trampled.”
Violations of the provisions of the bill would carry civil penalties up to $1,000 for the first violation and $2,500 for each subsequent violation.
“Sometimes there’s a fine line between thoroughly vetting a prospective employee and invading their privacy,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “The rapid advancement of technology creates a slippery slope that these bills aim to temper.”
The bill would also prohibit an employer from requiring a prospective employee or applicant to waive or limit any protection granted under the bill as a condition of applying for or receiving an offer of employment. The bill would also protect employees who report an alleged violation to the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development.
“Employers have managed to interview and hire quality employees for years without having to resort to this extra layer of scrutiny,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “There’s no reason they can’t continue to do so without invading a person’s privacy in such a way.”
Changes made to the bill on Monday would also permit an employer to view, access and utilize any information about an employee/prospective employee that can be obtained in the public domain.
The measure was approved 36-0 by the full Senate on Monday, and 77-0 by the full Assembly in May.