Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill Tuesday, wrapping up a session of negotiations between privacy advocates and business lobbyists who were worried that the new law would hamper security for proprietary or confidential information.
The measure, sponsored by Democrat Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, bars employers from asking for a Facebook, Twitter or other social media personal passwords during a job interview or at the workplace. It also bars employers from making workers friend managers so that their profile is viewable.
The bill, however, allows companies to request "content" of employee social media sites during internal investigations, which can be opened if an employer has received a tip that a worker may be leaking information.
"In that circumstance, the employer may request the leaked content, but there is no requirement that the employee turn it over. The employer is given no more power to force disclosure of that information than exists under current law," said Shankar Narayan of the Washington state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
That last provision was the result of negotiations prompted by an earlier amendment that allowed employers to ask for a password during these investigations, essentially gutting the original bill's intent. That version was thrown out after pushback from privacy advocates.
"We don't have to sacrifice our privacy for advances in technology," Hobbs said. "As the social media technology advances people are afraid about their privacy, it's good to be ahead on this one."
The Associated Press reported last year that some employers around the country were asking applicants for their social media information.
In 2012 and this year, eight states banned employers from asking job applicants and employees for their social network passwords, with some exceptions.
"We're trying to assure people's privacy in this space, that we (have) vigilance and the ability to move on a moment's notice when people's privacy has been violated," Inslee said. "I think it is a solid step to give people privacy, but I would not be shocked if there's some new app or application or a laser beam hologram technology we haven't dreamed of yet that makes further work necessary."
Rachel La Corte contributed to this report from Olympia, Wash