We’ve been following the issue of employers asking applicants and employees for access to their social media accounts. Despite limited data of how widespread this practice is, the issue has attracted national attention due in part to a recent AP story and activism by civil liberties groups.

Maryland moved significantly closer to becoming the first state to ban employers from asking applicants or employees for access to their social media accounts when its General Assembly passed a pair of bills—S.B. 433 and H.B. 964—over the weekend. The introduction of the legislation was driven in part by the account of a state Department of Corrections officer, who alleged that he was forced to give his interviewer his Facebook account information during his recertification interview.

If signed by Governor O’Malley, the law, which is effective October 1, 2012, would make it unlawful for an employer to “discharge, discipline or otherwise penalize or threaten to discharge, discipline or otherwise penalize” an employee or applicant for refusing to disclose their usernames or passwords for social media sites. The law also makes it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire an applicant who refused to disclose the same information.

We will continue to track this legislation and update you if it is signed into law. In the meantime, employers should be mindful of current and pending federal legislation that could create risks if they ask applicants for access to their social media sites.