July 2013 Bar Bulletin
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July 2013 Bar Bulletin

Washington Joins Trend of Social Media Laws

By Katherine H. Parker and Daniel L. Saperstein


On May 21, Gov. Jay Inslee signed SB 5211 into law, making Washington the latest state to prohibit employers from requiring or requesting that prospective and current employees disclose their user names and passwords to their personal social media accounts.

Maryland, Illinois, California, Michigan, Utah, New Mexico (whose law ostensibly applies to prospective employees only), Arkansas and Colorado have enacted similar laws. As part of a growing national trend, dozens of other states and the U.S. Congress are considering similar legislation.

To better understand the new Washington law, this article discusses its coverage, prohibitions, exceptions and remedies.


The law is expansive in its coverage, defining "employer" to mean any person, firm, corporation, partnership, business trust, legal representative or other business entity which engages in any business, industry, profession or other activity in Washington and has at least one employee.

The term also includes the State, any state institution, state agency, political subdivision of the state and any municipal corporation (or quasi-municipal corporation), as well as any agent, representative or designee of the employer.


An employer may not request, require or otherwise coerce a current or prospective employee to disclose login information for a personal social networking account, or to access his or her personal social networking account in the employer's presence in a manner enabling the employer to observe the contents of the account.

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