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Bosses, it’s now illegal to demand Facebook passwords

A new law in Washington establishes a fine of up to $500 and court costs if employers or potential bosses demand workers' social media passwords (MyNorthwest.com file photo)

What’s changed about Washington today? Your boss or potential employer can’t demand your password for social media sites like Facebook at work or during a job interview.

A state law passed to protect workers – from a problem that may or may not exist – went into effect Sunday. It also establishes a fine of up to $500 and court costs for violating the law.

Who are these bosses insisting employees turn over their passwords, or hovering over workers’ computers while they sign on and reveal the fascinating food pictures they’ve posted privately on social media accounts?

It’s likely they’re out there, but I have yet to find one.

A single Associated Press story in April of 2012 mushroomed into a fear that companies all over America were asking for Facebook passwords as they consider job applicants. U.S. Senators were outraged too and state politicians were too.

I fact checked the original AP story, written by a Seattle journalist. He cited a single case of an unnamed private company that requested an applicant’s password.

The story says Justin Bassett, a New York City statistician, had a woman ask for his Facebook login information during an interview.

Beyond that anecdote, all of the examples related to jobs in the field of law enforcement, where more invasive background checks are common.

When I talked to the reporter who wrote the story he said, “My sense is that it happens, but it’s not widespread. It’s more prevalent among public agencies involved in security.”

Incidentally, I think employers need their own law, banning workers from wasting time on Facebook and other social media sites during the work day unless it is part of their job description.

Other laws now in effect in Washington state:

Electronic Proof of Driver’s Insurance Drivers in Washington will now be able to use their smartphones to prove they have insurance when they get pulled over. Lawmakers added electronic proof of driver’s insurance to the list of methods officers can accept.

Gender Neutral Language This change is six years in the making. A measure approved by the Legislature this year mandated that references to “his” be changed to “his or her.” Other nouns like “clergyman” must be changed to “clergy.” This applies to all new laws and goes back to scrub language from laws that were written decades ago when no one thought that women would one day work as police officers or fisherpeople.

Liquor, beer and wine tasting Farmers markets that meet certain requirements will be able to feature wine and beer tasting. Movie theaters with fewer than 120 seats per screen will also be allowed to obtain a liquor license.

Dropped marijuana Yes, lawmakers actually spent some time thinking through this possibility. What if a person drops or forgets an ounce or less of marijuana at a retail store with a pharmacy? A new law now answers that question. Managers need to notify law enforcement and destroy the marijuana.

By LINDA THOMAS

AP contributed to this report

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