New Jersey Takes Stand Against Social Media Background Checks

Originally considered a measure of character, credit checks have transformed into a growing obstacle for job candidates over the past few years, and now social media screenings appear as just as much of a threat, if not a greater one. While a credit report can clearly show an individual has made poor financial decisions, social media pages are more subjective. The photos of you scantily clad and drunk in Cancun as a college student should certainly be left off your Facebook page, but seeing a greater preponderance of group photos on another candidate’s account, an employer, potentially, may choose another equally-qualified applicant over you.

Because these subjective and fine judgments may prevent an individual from obtaining gainful employment, the New Jersey Assembly recently passed a bill that bans employers and educational institutions from asking current and prospective employees and students for username and password information.

For employers, A2878 blocks requests for such private social media information and imposes two grades of fines: $1,000 for the first offense and $2,500 for those after. Employees also get legal recourse if they have been violated. A2879 has similar measures for students, although no fine structure is specified. About these bills, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) stated to the press:

“In this job market, especially, employers clearly have the upper hand. Demanding this information is akin to coercion when it might mean the difference between landing a job and not being able to put food on the table for your family. This is a huge invasion of privacy that takes ‘Big Brother’ to a whole new level. It’s really no different than asking someone to turn over a key to their house.”

Screening social media accounts has been a growing concern since 2009. Similar bills have been introduced in the New Jersey senate and in more than 10 other states but have not yet advanced. One measure against such social media background checks passed in Maryland, however.

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