The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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Social Media: Invasion of Privacy

Reference Number: MTAS-1617
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: August 18, 2016
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You should be familiar with local, state, and federal rules concerning invasion of privacy. Under no circumstances should a city ask for log on identification or passwords, or use someone else’s passwords to access employees’ or applicants’ social networking accounts. A popular restaurant chain found itself in court after asking employees for this information on a private “group” designed for the purpose of venting about work. The employees won the case because the employer gained unauthorized access to the social network by forcing employees to provide their user credentials.

In another situation, a city in Montana found itself on the front page after asking applicants to provide their user names and passwords as part of the hiring process and background check. The news of this went viral, and city officials promptly retracted their stance. Surprisingly, this was not an isolated incident that only occurred in this municipality.

The courts have stated that employers should not attempt to gain unauthorized access to private social networking profiles/groups for the purpose of spying on employees. Employers should be reminded that there is a risk in attempting to access employee/applicant content that is unauthorized or intended to be private.

Responsible: