Vermont ‘Facebook Bill’ Would Protect Social Media Policy

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday in Montpelier.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, testifies before the Senate Economic Development Committee Tuesday in Montpelier.

By Kirk Carapezza

So many people share their lives online that some employers want to learn more by getting into social media accounts of their staffs. And that’s prompted a senator from Bennington County to propose a bill that would outlaw the practice.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, has been referring to his bill around the Statehouse as the Facebook bill.

Sears said until his son convinced him to enter the social media world, he had no idea there were online social networks, which have recently become ubiquitous in the workplace.

But employers are quite familiar. Some of them require potential employees to provide passwords to Twitter and Facebook. If enacted, Sears’ bill would prohibit that practice. Other states have adopted similar measures, including Illinois, New Jersey and California.

“This was sort of like saying when you come in for your interview, please bring your diary with you and we’re going to read your diary. It seemed to me that was kind of something that was amiss here,” Sears told the Senate Economic Development Committee on Tuesday.I don’t know of anybody in the state that has required somebody to provide them with either a password or become friends or whatever, but it just seems to me it’s something that shouldn’t be allowed.”

The Shumlin administration supports Sears’ bill, but it has suggested some amendments designed to hold law enforcement officials to separate, higher social media standards.

The Department of Public Safety says it doesn’t ask for access to social media accounts except when hiring state troopers, and Commissioner Keith Flynn wants the state to be permitted to conduct online background checks. Commissioner of Human Resources Kate Duffy would also like an exemption for employees who are being investigated for a criminal offense.

This comes as federal regulators are ordering employers to scale back policies that limit what workers can and can’t say online. The National Labor Relations Board says workers ought to have the right to discuss work conditions as they like, as if they were gathering in the cafeteria.

Labor leaders say employers should adopt social media policies and make them clear to their employees.