In a “Facebook-friendly” move earlier this month, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law that prohibits employers from accessing employees’ or job applicants’ personal social media accounts. The law went into effect March 12.

Under the new legislation, “personal accounts” are defined as an electronic account or profile “where users create, share, and view user-generated content, including uploading or downloading videos or still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant messages, or internet website profiles used exclusively for personal purposes.”

The new law makes it illegal for an employer to request or coerce an employee or applicant to disclose the username and password of their personal accounts. Employers also cannot force an applicant or employee to access their personal accounts onsite or reproduce any photographs or videos from their personal accounts. And finally, employers cannot retaliate against an employee or applicant if they refuse to provide access to their personal accounts.

This appears to be a growing trend as New York’s law is one of many measures introduced this year to safeguard employees’ online privacy. Granted, online “social media privacy” is probably an oxymoron, but California, Connecticut and Oregon presently prohibit employers from asking employees to access their social media accounts with the employer present. New Hampshire, Maine and Delaware prohibit employers from requiring employees to add employers as a “friend.”

Almost all of these laws include anti-retaliation provisions to protect employees who refuse to share their personal social media accounts. In New York, the law will be enforced through the state’s Department of Labor’s Division of Labor Standards.

As usual, there are a few exceptions. If an employee or applicant voluntarily adds the employer to their contacts associated with a personal account, the employer is not prohibited from accessing the account.

Employers can still require employees to disclose access information to an account provided by the employer for business purposes and access an electronic communications device paid for by the employer, so long as the employee was provided prior notice.

It should be noted that social media accounts are not entirely protected. The new legislation does not restrict employers from viewing or utilizing information about an employee or applicant available in the public domain. So, it’s generally recommended to be mindful of the information shared on social media and to adjust privacy settings accordingly. This will ensure you are in control of who has access to your social media accounts.