New Jersey workers will be able to protect their personal Facebook accounts from their bosses' eyes under a state law that went into effect Sunday.

Under the law, employers are banned from requiring employees and job applicants to turn over their passwords for their personal Facebook and other online accounts.

"The employer can't coerce or require an employee to give up a password for a privacy-protected personal website," said John Sarno, head of the Employers Association of New Jersey in Livingston, N.J.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, called the law "a smart idea."

"It prevents employers from getting access to employees' personal information on Facebook," Rotenberg said. "It's an effort to keep separate a person's private life online from their life in the workplace, and that's how it should be."

Employers can still access public information on social media pages, and the law doesn't apply to accounts used for business purposes. And under the law, an employer can still investigate wrongdoing on a social media site, such as harassment of a colleague, if it affects the company.

Stefanie Riehl, a vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said the law struck the right balance between the needs of employers and employees.

"I'm not aware of this being a widespread problem in New Jersey, but I think the (law) sponsors' interest was to make sure it was not going to become a pervasive problem," she said.

Employers who violate the password law are subject to a $1,000 fine for the first violation and $2,500 for subsequent violations. The law was passed with bipartisan support and signed by Gov. Chris Christie Aug. 29. New Jersey is one of more than half a dozen states with similar laws.


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