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Online activity, employer snooping lead to new state privacy laws

There are our work lives, and there are our private lives. Some of both might end up on our social media sites, but most people would rather not feel like their boss is peering over their shoulder to look at their Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter pages.

To protect their privacy, many people set the privacy levels on their social media pages so that only friends can see what is on there. Unfortunately, that does not stop many employers from attempting to monitor their workers' private lives. Some go so far as to demand that their employees hand over their login names and passwords, a tactic that has led to several employment disputes in Colorado and across the country.

Seeking to protect the privacy of its citizens from employer intrusion, several U.S. states have passed laws making it illegal to punish or fire employees for declining to give up their social media passwords, or to refuse to hire somone for the same reason. Colorado is among the states to enact an employee social media privacy statute. Its law went into effect on May 11.

Though these statutes provide a legal cause of action for employees and applicants, they frequently also allow employers to seek access to social media in limited circumstances. For example, the Colorado law allows employers to ask for passwords if the account is used in the business or was given to the employee for business purposes -- or if the business has evidence that the employee is storing or distributing company secrets online.

If a worker in Colorado believes that their employer has inappropriately pressured him or her to disclose his or her Facebook, Twitter or other social media password, he or she could have a cause of action against the employer.

Source: Computerworld, "State social media privacy laws a mixed bag for businesses," Jaikumar Vijayan, May 15, 2013

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