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'Facebook bill' up for Senate vote

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The state Senate is set to vote today on a measure, opposed by business groups, that would bar employers from requiring workers to provide their passwords to social media like Facebook.

While business groups have expressed sympathy with concerns over privacy, the so-called "Facebook bill" was opposed by business groups due to a provision that would allow a new cause of action allowing employees to sue employers for violations.

The bill, S-1915 and A-2878, was passed by the Assembly by a 76-1 vote in June. It was amended by the Senate to exclude law enforcement agencies.

The bill bars employers from requiring or requesting current or prospective workers to provide access to personal accounts on social networking sites. It also bars employers from asking whether employees have social-networking accounts.

Any current, prospective or former employee could sue for damages. In addition, the bill provides for a $1,000 state fine for the first violation and $2,500 for subsequent violations.

Employer groups have expressed concern that the issue could be used as a pretext for disgruntled current or former employees to file groundless lawsuits against businesses.

Christopher Mills, a law partner with Fisher & Phillips, in the Murray Hill section of New Providence, said he would advise clients from asking about Facebook information, but the law is overkill.

“You’d like to think that no one would be against prohibiting people from asking for Facebook passwords because that’s not a good personnel practice,” Mills said, noting that information that could be on Facebook, such as an employee’s sexual orientation, would be inappropriate for an employer to inquire about. “We just think it’s a bad idea to learn too much about an applicant during the hiring process, which would include things that you can’t ask and wouldn’t know.”

However, employees could use the new cause of action as a pretext, he said. He cited the potential for a job applicant who is not hired to allege that they were asked for a Facebook password during an interview.

“I think this is the proverbial killing the flea with an elephant gun,” Mills said of the bill.

The bill has been approved by the Senate Labor Committee, and is scheduled for a vote during a Senate session beginning at 2 p.m.

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