Social media protections

Thanks to a reminder from the Wisconsin State Law Library, here is some information about social media protections available in Wisconsin since 10 April 2014 with the passage of SB223 as 2013 Wisconsin Act 208. A legislative council memorandum has the full description of this law.

Recall that around 2011 and 2012, media stories appeared about employers demanding job applicants to disclose passwords to Facebook accounts. While such demands are legal folly, at the time there was nothing explicitly illegal about them. This 2013 act explicitly makes such demands to reveal passwords illegal.

Under this law, an employer, educational institution, or landlord may not ask for or demand an employee, student, tenant, or applicant to reveal personal information associated with an Internet account of some kind, like the passwords or lock codes for a personal e-mail address, a personal cell or smart phone, or a personal Facebook account. Likewise, an employer, educational institutional, or landlord cannot discipline, discharge, expel, or refuse to rent to an employee, student, tenant, or applicant for refusing to disclose such information or who opposes such disclosure.

Employers and educational institutions can request and even demand access to Internet accounts connected to that employer or educational institution, however. Likewise, restrictions on which web sites can be visited and the monitoring of Internet access are available to employers and educational institutions on the networks and equipment they provide. And certainly, information in the public domain — i.e., available without use of a password or pass code associated with the account — is available to the employer, land lord, or educational institution without consequence to them.

Finally, if a personal Internet account or device could reasonably be believed to have information relating to an alleged unauthorized transfer of proprietary or confidential information, company financial data, other employment-related misconduct, any violation of the law, or any violation of the employer’s work rules as specified in an employee handbook, then the employer may, in the course of an investigation into these allegations, require an employee to grant access or allow observation of a personal Internet account or device. Even in this case, however, the employer may not demand the employee reveal the password or lock code associated with the personal Internet account or device.

If an employee, student, tenant, or applicant believes that a violation of this law has occurred, he or she can file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Rights Division of the Department of Workforce Development. In the employment context, the employee or job applicant would be entitled to back pay and reinstatement. In addition, criminal forfeiture penalties of up to $1,000 may also be charged pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 995.55 for violations of this act.

So, Wisconsin joins other states in making demands for Facebook passwords illegal.

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Assistance for the long-term unemployed

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has led advocacy efforts to end hiring practices that discriminate against unemployed job-seekers since issuing its groundbreaking 2011 report, Hiring Discrimination Against the Unemployed.

An October 15th announcement by the administration includes two new handbooks — one for employers (“Guide to Recruiting and Hiring the Long-Term Unemployed”) and one for job-seekers (“New Guide, New Destinations”) — that offer guidance on specific programs and best practices to eliminate unemployment discrimination and increase the hiring of the long-term unemployed.

As part of this new program, the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a new guidance to federal agencies’ hiring managers to help ensure that unemployed applicants and those who have experienced financial difficulties through no fault of their own are not unfairly denied federal employment opportunities.

For example, the guidance states that “job announcements generally should not include a requirement that applicants be currently or recently employed, which discourages unemployed workers.”  And it directs the agencies to include the following language in their outreach material:  “It is the policy of the Government not to deny employment simply because an individual has been unemployed or has had financial difficulties that have arisen through no fault of the individual.”  In addition, OPM issued a “myth buster” geared to the general public and workers interested in applying for federal employment to help clarify federal hiring policies designed to prevent discrimination against the unemployed.

NELP has been working in the issue of long-term unemployment for some time:

A January 2014 policy brief from NELP — Tackling the Long-Term Unemployment Crisis: What the President, Congress and Business Leaders Should Do — lays out a comprehensive agenda for reducing long-term unemployment, and includes several proposals closely mirrored in the administration’s initiative.

Despite receding from the headlines, the crisis of long-term unemployment — the defining feature and legacy of the Great Recession — persists for many Americans.  At nearly three million, there are still more long-term unemployed than at the peak of all prior post-war recessions.  That comparison also holds true for the percentage of the unemployed out of work for 27 weeks or longer (31.9 percent in Sept. 2014) and for the average duration of joblessness (31.5 weeks).

This year has been especially difficult for the long-term unemployed, as they have been cut off from federal extensions of jobless aid as a result of Congress’s failure to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program at the end of 2013.

NELP called for the administration’s initiatives to be scaled up nationally, along with additional programs and funding to provide high-quality, personalized reemployment services as well as subsidized jobs for those long-term unemployed workers who need them.  It also called for measures to help prevent long-term unemployment, including rapid-response-type job-matching and placement services early in the job search, and legislation to prohibit employment discrimination based on an individual’s unemployed status.

Madison makes discrimination against the unemployed illegal

News today from the Wisconsin State Journal is that the City Council has approved making the unemployed a protected class during the hiring processes. Details and the actual text are here.

That means that an employer who refuses to consider an applicant to a job because of that applicant’s unemployment status will now be actionable. A job applicant can bring a claim with the Madison Equal Opportunity Commission for discrimination and possible back pay from the potential date of hire.

Proving that this kind of discrimination has occurred is not easy. But, at least when it does occur, the unemployed in Madison have some recourse against unfair treatment.