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Attorney: If you're talking social media with a job candidate, get legal advice

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The conditional veto of New Jersey's so-called “Facebook bill” continues to win praise in the Garden State's private sector.

Joseph P. Paranac Jr., an attorney in LeClair Ryan’s Newark office, said Gov. Chris Christie’s recommendations on the bill, which would limit the amount of information job candidates would have to disclose to prospective employers in regards to their social media activity. But Paranac said he would advise employers to be careful when hiring for jobs that involve social media. He recommends those companies consult a lawyer and have a social media hiring policy in place regarding both employees and potential employees.

“I agree that you can’t ask a candidate for his password or other access to a social media account,” Paranac said. “But I do think it’s perfectly appropriate to ask somebody if they have a social media account if social media is part of the job.”

Christie felt the original wording of the bill was too broad, and wanted to ensure employers could not be sued for invasion of privacy for even asking if a candidate had a social media account. The privacy concerns of job candidates “must be balanced against an employer's need to hire appropriate personnel, manage its operations, and safeguard its business assets and proprietary information,” he wrote in his veto.

Employers often warn current employees not to discuss company matters, disparage the company, its supervisors or even co-workers on social media. But the National Labor Relations Board says workers have the right to discuss work conditions freely without fear of retribution, making social media akin to water-cooler talk.

Even so, some employees have been fired for such actions.

“Developments in this area are occurring fairly rapidly, so companies should consult an attorney to specify what the social media policy can govern, what it can prohibit and what it can’t,” Paranac said.

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