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California Law And Social Media At Work: More Privacy Protection

Our last post covered some of the biggest changes to California's employment laws that will take effect in a few months with the start of 2013. This post will look at another new employee protection law. Employers may no longer ask workers or job applicants for access to personal social media accounts.

The bill, known as AB1844, could give many California employees claims for wrongful termination or retaliation if employers violate their new rights to personal social media privacy.

Under the statute, employers cannot ask employees for usernames or passwords to social media sites.

While some employer advocates say that this law is unnecessary because most companies do not request this information, the consequences for employees could be enormous if an employer did choose to do this. Employers would be able to access enormous amounts of personal material - for example, information involving age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and pregnancy.

While laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of these characteristics, workers would have no way of knowing if an employer was acting legitimately or basing its decision on something it saw on a social network.

The law does contain some exceptions, including one that allows employers to require access to personal social networks for the purposes of investigating misconduct by the employee. Courts will likely have some work ahead of them to define exactly which situations fall under these exceptions.

Overall, even if employers do not widely ask for ask to social media sites, this new law is a good preemptive measure. California law says that many personal characteristics are none of an employer's business - this statute reinforces that separation on behalf of employee privacy.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "A look at new California workplace laws," Kathleen Pender, Oct. 31, 2012

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