Amidst nationwide debate Ohio considers legislation aimed at social media in the workplace

The House Commerce, Labor, & Technology Committee heard proponent testimony yesterday on House Bill 424, which prohibits an employer from requiring access to an employee’s personal email or social media account. Due to growing social media marketing, web presence, and internet-based business-to-customer (B2C) relationships, state legislatures across the country are considering similar legislation or have already passed such legislation. This year, Ohio is one of 28 states to review this kind of legislation.

Several of the provisions in HB 424 may be appealing to employers due to the inclusion of critical business protections. Some of these protections include allowing employers to view the activity of employees on business internet accounts and to view activity on corporate communication devices. HB 424 also reinforces an employer’s right to discipline employees for misuse of a business internet account; requires employees to cooperate during work-related misconduct investigations involving personal accounts; and permits employers to view public information on the internet about an employee or potential employee.

Nationally, employers have become embroiled in legal battles and National Labor Relations Board disputes over social media policies. The recent court ruling in Ehling v. Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corp may even indicate that obtaining employees’ personal account information by request or coercion is already illegal under the federal Stored Communications Act. Further complications for employers under federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws add an additional element of caution for business owners crafting a social media policy.

However, this should not discourage businesses from having a social media policy. Like other work policies, a social media policy outlines acceptable and unacceptable actions, and protects the employer and the employee. Check out the Ohio Chamber’s HR Academy resources on this issue, including tips for drafting a social media policy, and we will continue to monitor HB 424 and similar issues to help you keep your policies up-to-date and protect your business.