Tuesday February 12, 2013

CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire is considering joining a handful of states that bar employers from asking job applicants and employees for their social media user names and passwords.

The House’s labor committee is holding a hearing on two similar bills Tuesday that would prohibit an employer from requiring the disclosure. Maryland, California, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey and Illinois have similar laws barring employers, academic institutions or both and two dozen besides New Hampshire are considering legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In their effort to vet job applicants, some companies and government agencies have started asking for passwords to log into a prospective employee’s accounts on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Critics call it an invasion of privacy akin to handing over the keys to the person’s house.

State Sen. Donna Soucy, a co-sponsor on both New Hampshire bills, said Monday that employers can gain access to information about an employee or job applicant through social media accounts like Facebook that they otherwise could not legally obtain. She said people post personal information about themselves on Facebook or others post on the person’s page that should be protected.

She said she has not heard of any New Hampshire employers demanding the information.

"I think the issue is something we need to consider a lot more seriously than we used to" with the growth of social media accounts, she said. "At the very least, I would hope we would have a study."

Soucy, D-Manchester, said employers can use information on social media accounts to discriminate. For example, the applicant might be obese but the person’s weight would not be required on the application. The employer might not know until seeing a picture on Facebook, she said.

"Would they interview them if they saw their picture on Facebook?" she said.

Soucy said other people can post information on the person’s page that the person might not delete before a prospective employer saw it.

"As responsible as somebody might trying to be, it is still a reflection on them," she said.

Allowing employers access to social media accounts also gives them access to others linked to the account at the infringement on their privacy, she said.