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Bill limiting access to sensitive employee data fails in Texas

Many people have social media or email accounts where they converse with friends and family. They generally exclude their employers from these conversations, because they are about personal and private matters. Some of the information could prove to be both embarrassing and harmful if accessed by employers.

Recently, some companies have instituted policies that require employees and prospective applicants to provide their passwords to these accounts. Employers then review these individuals' accounts to determine if there is anything present that is cause for concern. A new bill was recently considered in Texas that would have restricted employers' access to this data, but failed to receive the support necessary to become law. Continued access to this data could result in employees bringing wrongful termination or employment discrimination lawsuits against their employers.

The bill would have made Texas one of few states prohibiting employers from asking for this information. It had passed the House, but did not make it out of committee in the Senate. While it did limit employer access to private accounts, it did make an exception for situations when employees accessed this information using company resources.

Since employers are not restricted from asking for these passwords, employees and applicants need to be aware that anything they say could be seen by their employers. This could lead employers to make decisions based off of the information that they are reading. If employees did anything to disparage the company, or make the employer feel uncomfortable, it may result in termination. 

Employees that lose their jobs due to their employers' review of social media or personal email accounts may wish to speak to an attorney about the options that are available. The factors that led to the company deciding to make a change may need to be anaylzed to determine that the company acted lawfully. Employers could be held liable if they did not follow proper procedures. 

Source: Houston Business Journal, "Bosses can still demand access to Facebook, personal emails," James Jeffrey, June 17, 2013. 

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