California Legislature Prohibits Requesting Employee Social Media Passwords

As we blogged about earlier this week, there have been a lot of recent cases before the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") testing the validity under federal labor laws of employer policies seeking to restrict employee use of social media.

The NLRB isn't the only place action is happening recently in this developing clash between employment law and social media.  Responding to an emerging controversy about whether employers can require disclosure of social media passwords during the hiring process, the California Legislature has passed Assembly Bill 1844, which Governor Jerry Brown signed in late September.  It takes effect on January 1, 2013.

This legislation prohibits an employer from requiring or requesting that an employee or job applicant disclose a user name or password for the purpose of accessing personal social media. AB 1844 also prohibits requiring or requesting that an employee or applicant access personal social media in the presence of the employer, or divulge any personal social media.  Finally, it also prohibits retaliation against an employee or applicant for not complying with an employer's request for such information.

The law does contain a few limited exceptions.  An employer may request that an employee divulge personal social media that the employer reasonably believes to be relevant to an investigation of allegations of employee misconduct or employee violation of law, provided that the social media is used solely for purposes of that investigation.  Additionally, the law does not preclude an employer from requiring or requesting that an employee disclose a user name, password or other method for the purpose of accessing an employer-issued electronic device.

With the passage of this law, California becomes the third state (along with Maryland and Illinois) to legislatively limit employer access to social media accounts. Companies with employees in California should assess their hiring and employment practices to make sure they are in compliance with these new restrictions.

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