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California Poised to Prohibit Employers From Demanding Social Media Access

by Aug 21, 2012, 10:39 pm ET

California is about to become the third state to prohibit employers from asking employees or job seekers for access to their social media postings.

Without dissent, the California Senate approved AB1844, the privacy measure, Monday. It now requires an Assembly vote and the Governor’s signature before it takes effect. The Assembly vote is likely this week and is almost perfunctory, since it has already once passed there without dissent.

Backed by some of the state’s largest unions and the California Chamber of Commerce, the bill is similar to those adopted in Illinois and Maryland. Illinois’ bill was approved earlier this month and takes effect with the New Year. Maryland’s takes effect October 1.

Each of the three states prohibit an employer from requesting or requiring employees or applicants to disclose passwords, usernames, or other methods allowing them to access personal accounts. And the bills also prohibit employers from penalizing employees and not hiring applicants who refuse such requests.

Unlike the other states, however, California makes an exception allowing employers to get access to personal accounts in order to investigate “allegations of employee misconduct or employee violation of applicable laws and regulations.” That’s somewhat broader than Maryland’s bill which makes an exception only if there’s evidence an employee snatched proprietary information.

Other bills have are being considered in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, and possibly others. Congress, too, has a similar law in the hopper. The federal bill provides for a penalty of up to $10,000 for employers who demand access.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was asked by two U.S. Senators to investigate what they called “a new disturbing trend of employers.”

In California there’s also a companion bill to the employee password protection law  — SB 1349 — extending the same privacy rights to college students and employees and admissions applicants.

photo from Bigstock

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.