By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

Proposed bill would bar employers from requesting social media passwords


A bill was introduced into the Washington State Legislature this year that would impact anyone with a Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr account.

Senate Bill 5211 would prevent employers from requesting current or prospective employees’ social media account passwords.

As it stands, the bill would allow courts to award a $500 penalty to a prospective or current employee who successfully brought a complaint against an employer who asked for their password. It would also allow courts to award “reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs” to the current or prospective employee.

Matt Manweller, the 13th District Representative, and political science professor at Central Washington University, said he supported the bill, and helped bring it through the legislature.

“I don’t think businesses or employers have any right to a person’s Facebook, social network, or any other email passwords,” Manweller said.

One concern about the bill is its potential to keep employers from conducting necessary internal investigations concerning harassment or security risks. Manweller did not seem to find this to be an obstacle to the bill.

“If it got to the point where [the employer] suspected that an employee was committing bank fraud, then they could go to a judge, and the judge could issue a subpoena,” Manweller said.

Students’ thoughts on the bill ranged from being indifferent to voicing strong support.

Nayeli Sanchez, a senior fine arts major, said she supported the bill and considered her social media account private property.

“For example, if a company wanted to read your mail, that’s an invasion of privacy,” Sanchez said.

On Central’s staff, Steve DeSoer, chief officer of human resources, expressed concern about the bill’s passing.

“We’re reacting to specific circumstances,” DeSoer said.

With technology moving so quickly, it could be difficult to pass effective legislation in the field of social media. DeSoer said he believes the bill is too specific.

“The minute you pass a law that says you can’t require people to disclose their passwords, there will be a situation where it’s necessary for people to disclose their password,” DeSoer said.

Despite DeSoer’s concerns about imposing blanket rules, both DeSoer and Staci Sleigh-Layman, the director at-large of compliance and innovation at Central, said they do not see the need for employers to ask workers for passwords.

“That’s why we do interview processes, that’s why we ask people to apply,” DeSoer said. “We filter that information that the individual selects to give us.”

According to Sleigh-Layman, employee screening requirements have not gone that deep in the past.

“We don’t ask our candidates for that information,” Sleigh-Layman said. “So from my perspective, it doesn’t have much impact here. There’s a ton of information I can find out about someone without passwords.”

Sleigh-Layman explained that there were so many “layers” to looking up a potential employee, that from her perspective as an employer, it would not make sense to also use an applicant’s password for further research.

Both DeSoer and Sleigh-Layman expressed the need for a distinction between personal and professional life. DeSoer explained that he sees no reason for an employer to interact with an employee’s personal life unless it affects job performance, and even then, the interaction is limited to how the job was effected.

Sleigh-Layman has additional concerns about the risks to an employer who looked into a prospective employee’s social media account.

She said there could be a “flip side”  to looking so deep into social networks. It could reveal compromising informationthat could prevent equal opportunity, such as revealing a person’s religion.

Sleigh-Layman explained that although her knowledge of that individual’s religious affiliation would not affect their application, once an employer knew, they could be accused of religious discrimination, regardless of the reason why a job applicant was not accepted.

“My experience is once you put something in law, it’s very difficult to change it,” DeSoer said.

DeSoer expressed an interest in the conversations and discussions that could result from the bill’s proposal, but he thinks passing a law on social media may be premature.

“We’ll know more when we get done with this than we do now,” DeSoer said. “I think it gives people an opportunity to more fully explore, I guess, implications of the legislation.”

More to Discover