Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.

Employee and applicant social media accounts: What's legal?

Employers can have legitimate concerns about how their employees' social media activity can affect the company. For example, a supervisor's racist rant in cyberspace could have real-world legal and financial fallout for your business. Courts are generally supportive of disciplinary action in those circumstances.

What about heading off trouble in advance? What are the limits imposed on you when it comes to looking into an employee's or job applicant's social media activity?

Since as far back as 2012, Michigan employers have been forbidden from asking employees and job applicants for their social media usernames or passwords. It's important to keep that in mind even when chatting with employees in casual conversation because something like that could come back to haunt you legally, even if you didn't intend to use the information for disciplinary purposes at the time.

For example, you may discover that you and an employee share a fondness for gluten-free recipes, but when your employee mentions that she keeps a bunch of recipes on her Pinterest page, don't ask for information about it. If you find something on there later that's problematic, she could accuse you of illegally asking for her username.

You do have some rights, however, that you can exert over your employees' social media usage:

-- You can require an employee to give you the access code, password, or other necessary information to look through any electronic communication device paid for by the company, even if you only pay part of its cost.

-- You can demand access to any social media account or service that was obtained through the business or used for business purposes, like the company's Twitter feed.

-- You can restrict an employee's access to specific websites while they are using an electronic communication device that is paid for in whole or part by the business.

You are also permitted to look at and use information that you find on an someone's public social media accounts if you can locate them on your own. In other words, it's still fair to Google an employee or job applicant by name and look at their Facebook feed if they have it on a public setting and make decisions accordingly.

If you have more questions about how to handle a potential problem with an employee's social media usage, consider talking the issue over with an attorney who handles business law and employment issues.

Source: Michigan Legislature, "Internet Privacy Protection Act (Excerpt) Act 48 of 2012," accessed Jan. 27, 2017

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Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.
1460 Walton Blvd , Suite 102
Rochester Hills, MI 48309

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