Should employers have access to the social media accounts of their employees? With so many workers having been fired over their social media activity, most employees probably would not want to have to disclose the contents of their tweets and Facebook chats. But fired Air New Zealand flight attendant Gina Kensington has been told by her employer that the only way that she can get her job back is if she first reveals her Facebook password to the airline, reports Television New Zealand, and also gives it access to banking information.
Back in March, Kensington was let go by the airline after it accused her of lying about needing to take two days of sick leave, which she said she needed to care for her ailing sister. When the airline asked to see her social media activity, she refused, and took her case to the country's Employment Relations Authority, claiming wrongful termination. She's now hoping to get her job back. The ERA has yet to issue a final ruling, but the government body already has ruled in favor of the airline, saying Kensington would have to make available both her social media and bank accounts to have a chance at getting her job back. New Zealand legal experts are speaking out against the decision, meanwhile, calling it "intrusive."
In siding with Air New Zealand, the agency said in a statement that Kensington's social media activity would be "substantially helpful." The government-sponsored TV network reported an ERA member, Tania Tetitaha, as saying "The explanation for taking sick leave must be tested for veracity."
Reports have not mentioned what raised suspicions over Kensington's actions. Lawyers for both Air New Zealand and Kensington have said that their clients are not speaking to the media about the ongoing case.
Legal commentators, however, are expressing concern about the case's potential to establish a "worrying precedent" for workers, reports ABC, Australia's public broadcaster. New Zealand employment lawyer Andrew Scott-Howman told Television New Zealand that the decision "feels intrusive and just, frankly, wrong."
Thomas Beagle, the co-founder of the civil liberties advocacy group, Tech Liberty NZ, told ABC that his country is "seeing a switching of the balance of power from employees to employers." The ERA's move, he said, is "going to greatly hearten the employers who want to snoop on their employees about what they're doing in their own time."
According to Television New Zealand, the ERA has a history of upholding employers' snooping on their workers social media accounts. More novel, according to Scott-Howman, is the request to access bank account information.
Workers worldwide have begun pushing back on such requests. And as AOL Jobs has reported, some states in the U.S. have banned employers from demanding access to workers' social media accounts. The first state to pass such a measure was Maryland. The law, which took effect in 2012, says that it is:
"Prohibiting an employer from requesting or requiring that an employee or applicant disclose any user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account or service through specified electronic communications devices; prohibiting an employer from taking, or threatening to take, specified disciplinary actions for an employee's refusal to disclose specified password and related information; prohibiting an employee from downloading specified information or data; etc."
Similar legislation has been proposed in 30 other U.S. states, with California, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey already having passed laws similar to Maryland's. None, however, may go far as the Garden State. It bans employers from even asking if their workers use social media networks.