like_a_bossSandwich, MA – When you work for a company, you represent that company. No one disputes that. Where that line begins and ends becomes a bit been hazy for many employers and employees when it pertains to social media. Senate bill 2063, passed by the Massachusetts Senate and under review by the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee, attempts to clarify several areas where social media use for work and personal part ways.

The bill states that it is unlawful for an employer to require an employee or applicant to provide user names and passwords for a personal social media account. The same goes for requiring an employee to connect on a social media site (e.g. Facebook friend; follower on Twitter; connect on LinkedIn. The bill also prohibits employers from taking or threatening adverse action against an employee or applicant for refusing to provide social media contact info or connect with their personal social media account.

“For my small business clients, this bill represents another factor to be wary of when training and/or disciplining their employees and developing an employee handbook,” said Attorney Timothy McNamara of Sandwich, MA-based law firm McNamara & Yates.

The bill’s authors, including Senator Cynthia Creem of Newton, introduced the law as a way to curb what they perceive to be oppressive practices by those in authority. There had been cases of this type of abuse at secondary schools, colleges and universities where student athletes were, at times, forced to become friends with coaches on social media so coaches could monitor the networks. That’s why language in S2063 also addresses this issue in a school setting as well, prohibiting schools, teachers, coaches, etc. from requesting a student’s social media user name and passwords; as well as prohibiting adverse action for refusing.

Yet as it pertains to businesses, does the proposed bill go too far?

“How likely is an employer to ask/demand user names and passwords or require you to be a Facebook friend? It seems unlikely, but one never knows and this new legislation will make that abuse illegal. The bill does raise the question about what control, if any, should an employer have over what their employees post on their personal social media,” said McNamara. “Many would be quick to say ‘none’, but what if an employee posts racial epithets, politically controversial opinions, or even disparaging remarks about the company itself on a social media page? Can a business use that as grounds for disciplinary actions or dismissal? Regardless, it’s a near certainty that the public’s attitude towards that employer would be immediately affected.”

Adds McNamara, “It’s an interesting question and another great example why companies need to be very careful in wording social media policies in their employee handbook and to have that reviewed by an attorney.”

Initially entitled S2054, S2063 was passed by Massachusetts State Senate in November 2015. There is no timetable for the House Ways & Means Committee to conclude review of S2063.

For more information on how S2063 could impact your business, you can call McNamara & Yates, P.C. at call 508-888-8100.

“Social means business” – About McNamara & Yates
Founded in 2004, McNamara & Yates, P.C. is a full-service law firm specializing in business law, , estate planning, guardianship, Medicaid planning probate law and bankruptcy. Based on Cape Cod at 128 Route 6A in Sandwich, Massachusetts, McNamara & Yates are committed to providing every client with personal attention and superior legal service at reasonable rates.
For more information, contact (508) 888-8100 or visit their website at http://www.cape-law.com.

(originally published in Patch.com and other media outlets)