New Jersey Governor Asks Legislature To Narrow Scope of Social Media Privacy Bill

By Lorraine McCarthy  

 

PHILADELPHIA--New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) May 6 asked state lawmakers to make changes to a bill (A. 2878) that would regulate employer access to the login credentials of personal social media accounts of employees and job seekers, saying the measure the Legislature sent to his desk March 21 goes too far.

The bill has been amended to incorporate the governor's recommendations and is in position for a floor vote in the Assembly, where the next voting session is scheduled for May 20. If it passes, the measure will move to the state Senate for a vote and will ultimately go back to the governor for his signature if both chambers approve it.

“In view of the over-breadth of this well-intentioned bill, I return it with my recommendations that more properly balance between protecting the privacy of employees and job candidates, while ensuring that employers may appropriately screen job candidates, manage their personnel, and protect their business assets and proprietary information,’’ Christie said in his conditional veto message.

The governor did not take issue with the bill's provisions that limit the ability of employers to require that current or prospective employees disclose user names, passwords, or other information about their personal social media accounts.

Christie, however, recommended deleting language that prohibits employers from asking current or prospective workers if they have a personal account. That provision would prevent an employer from asking candidates for a marketing job about their social media use to assess their technological skills and media savvy, he said.

Potential Penalties

The bill would still prohibit retaliation or discrimination against a person who reports a violation of the social media privacy protection law to the state Labor Department. The bill also would still provide for civil penalties of up to $1,000 for the first offense and $2,500 for each subsequent violation.

The governor's conditional veto seeks instead to delete provisions giving an aggrieved individual the right to file a civil suit in state court and obtain compensatory damages and attorneys' fees from an employer that violates any provision of the law.

Christie also recommended the addition of language specifying two situations in which the law would not prevent an employer from probing an employee's personal social media account.

An employer that has specific information about an employee's activity on a personal account would be able to conduct an investigation to ensure compliance with laws, regulations, or prohibitions against work-related employee misconduct. In addition, an employer would be able to investigate based on specific information about an employee's unauthorized transfer of the employer's proprietary, confidential, or financial data to a personal account.

The governor also asked for the addition of a provision stating that there is no bar to an employer accessing or using information about a current or prospective employee that is in the public domain.

Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D), the prime sponsor of the measure, could not be immediately reached for comment.