As many individuals have learned the hard way, their postings on social networking sites are generally not private. It comes as no surprise that employers routinely check the web for postings or other information concerning current or prospective employees. In the last few years, using the web to perform informal background checks has increased significantly. To make their searches easier, many employers have begun requesting social media user names and passwords of their prospective and current employees. Currently, there is no federal law prohibiting such a practice. This may change with the Social Networking Online Protection Act (“SNOPA”), which was introduced in 2012 by Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill).
Although the bill went nowhere in 2012, the bill was reintroduced earlier this month on February 6, 2013. SNOPA seeks to prohibit employers and others from requiring or requesting that employees, job applicants and others provide their user names, passwords or other information needed to access personal accounts on social networking sites. SNOPA also prevents discharging, disciplining or discriminating against any employee or job applicant who refuses to provide such information. SNOPA does not, however, prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against employees or prospective employees for their social media activity. So, SNOPA does not seek to protect individuals from themselves. Regardless of whether SNOPA becomes law, employees still need to be aware of the consequences of their social networking activity.
SNOPA would also apply to schools and universities.