I'm interviewing for a new job in California, and a potential employer asked me to provide my Facebook user name and password. I don't want them in my personal account, even though it's mostly pictures of my dog and my friends. My account isn't public; I've used the available privacy settings to restrict viewers to only my Facebook friends. Can employers make me give up my password?
Because you are looking for a job in California, the answer is no. California employers may not require employees or applicants to provide their user names or passwords for social media accounts. They also may not require employees or applicants to access their accounts in the employer's presence.
This is a relatively new law, and there are likely some employers who haven't heard about it. If you're asked this type of question in an interview or on an application form again, explain that California law protects your right to keep this information private -- and prohibits employers from requesting or requiring that applicants provide it.
California is one of a handful states that currently offer employees and applicants this protection. States with similar laws include New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Michigan, Utah, and Maryland, which was the first state to protect employees from this particular breach of privacy. The Maryland law was prompted by the case of a state corrections officer, who was asked to provide his Facebook user name and password during a recertification interview. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland filed a lawsuit on his behalf, and the state legislature enacted a law prohibiting employers from requiring this information.
Many employers consider public posts in making job decisions, and plenty of employers have passed on an applicant after finding embarrassing or even criminal activities attributed to the applicant on a social media site. No matter how you feel about this common practice, most everyone agrees that information an employee or applicant takes steps to shield should remain private. One Senator who was upset about the Maryland case said that requiring applicants to hand over their Facebook passwords is akin to asking applicants “for their house keys or to read their diaries.”
Facebook has also weighed in on the issue. It is now a violation of the site’s code of conduct to “share or solicit a Facebook password.” In response to the publicity surrounding the Maryland case, the site’s Chief Privacy Officer warned employers that they could expose themselves to “unanticipated legal liability” by demanding user passwords.
To learn more about California employment laws, see Nolo's article on California Employment Discrimination.