This May, Connecticut joined 20 other states with similar employee online privacy laws when Governor Dannel Malloy signed Public Act 15-6, a law designed to restrict an employer’s access to social media, email, and other similar personal online accounts of employees and job applicants. The Act will go into effect October 1, 2015.

Public Act 15-6 applies to both private and public employers of any size, including state and municipal employers. However, the Act does not apply during the pre-employment investigation of law enforcement personnel. Other exceptions to the Act include investigations for the purpose of ensuring compliance with state and federal laws, investigations into allegations of work misconduct, and investigations into the improper transfer of the employer’s confidential data to or from an employee or applicant’s personal online account.

Under the Act, employers may not require – or even request – an employee or a job applicant to provide access to a personal online account; this does not include online accounts which are for a business purpose of the employer or prospective employer. Specifically prohibited acts by employers include: 1) “shoulder surfing” (requesting or requiring that employees or applicants access an online account in their presence), 2) requiring the employee or applicant to invite the employer, or accept an invitation from the employer, to join a group affiliated with the personal online account of the employee or applicant, and 3) requesting or requiring the applicant or employee to provide a username and /or password, or any other means of accessing a personal online account.

An employer may not fire, refuse to hire, retaliate, or in any way penalize an employee or applicant for refusing to provide access to a personal online account. If the Labor Commission determines that an employer has violated the Act against an employee, the employer may be fined up to $500 for the first violation and $1,000 for each subsequent violation; if against a job applicant, the employer may be fined $25 for the first violation and $500 for each subsequent violation.