By Andrew Kitchenman | NJBIZ

A bill that would bar employers from asking employees for information about their accounts on social media sites like Facebook was released by a Senate committee today.

While employer groups back much of the bill, they were unsuccessful in convincing the committee to remove a provision allowing workers to sue employers for violations. The committee also passed a similar bill barring colleges from requiring students to provide their social media passwords.

The bill affecting employers was passed by the Senate Labor Committee by a 4-0 vote, with Sen. Anthony R. Bucco (R-Denville) abstaining.

Business groups said creating a new cause of action to bring lawsuits against employers would prove costly even in cases where the employer did nothing wrong.

Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said the cost could range into the tens of thousands of dollars for employers in cases where they did nothing wrong.

“We highly discourage our members to do any kind of online phishing expedition,” Riehl said.

Riehl noted other states that have passed bills banning employers from asking for employee passwords to social media sites have not allowed for employee lawsuits. These states include Maryland, Illinois and California.

“None have explicitly created a new cause of action,” Riehl said.

Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R-Medford) proposed a substitute bill without the lawsuit provision, but Bucco was the only other committee member to vote for the substitute, which did not pass.

Attorney Claudia A. Reis, president of the National Employment Law Association’s New Jersey chapter, said the law should instead include stricter provisions affecting employers. She called for a two-year statute of limitations for lawsuits instead of the one-year limit in the bill. She described her organization as representing nonunionized employees.

“There needs to be a real disincentive for employers” to prevent them from violating the bill, Reis said.

New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance Executive Director Marcus Rayner said the bill’s language is too vague, and could provide a basis for lawsuits over misunderstandings.

Committee Chairman Fred H. Madden Jr. (R-Turnersville) noted that bill sponsor Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said he was open to further suggested changes to the similar bill affecting colleges.