[author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor]
In August 2012, the California senate passed a measure which would protect the privacy rights of employees and applicants with respect to social media use and information. Specifically, A.B. 1844 makes it unlawful for California employers to request the social media user names and passwords of job applicants and employees in order to access personal social media websites. It also prevents an employer from discharging, disciplining or otherwise retaliating against an employee or applicant for refusing to provide such information.
The bill does not affect an employer's existing rights and obligations to request that an employee to divulge personal social media reasonably believed to be relevant to an investigation of allegations of employee misconduct or employee violation of applicable laws and regulations, provided that the social media is used solely for purposes of that investigation or a related proceeding.
Further, the law does not prevent an employer from requiring or requesting that an employee disclose a username, password, or other method for the purpose of accessing an employer-issued electronic device. +2011 Bill Text CA A.B. 1844; +2011 Bill Tracking CA A.B. 1844. The bill now moves to the State Assembly and if passed, will then be forwarded to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.
In doing so, California follows in the wake of states like Maryland and Illinois that have already passed similar laws seeking to extend privacy protections regarding social media and social media passwords to employees and applicants. In fact, as social media use is on the rise and employers continue to seek new ways to unearth information about employees and applicants, over a dozen states have this type of legislation in the works.
As a result, California employers should watch closely to see when this bill becomes law and get ready to make any requisite changes to their policies and procedures regarding hiring practices or employee use of social media websites and other electronic equipment and technology in the workplace.