New Year, New Laws for California Employers – Employer Access to Social Media

California employers received more attention in 2012 with 554 bills introduced in the legislature mentioning “employer,” compared to 346 in 2011.  Fortunately, most bills do not become law.  However, those that do bring with them new challenges for California employers.  As 2013 draws near we begin our series, “New Year, New Laws for California Employers.  Prepared by  Mark Terman, partner in the Los Angeles office, this series will take a look at some of the significant new regulations affecting private employers doing business in California.

Employer Access to Social Media

Social media is everywhere. Facebook, for example, claims 1 billion users with more than 140 billion friend connections among them. For some employers, this may be too attractive a source of information about employees
and job applicants. Balancing employee expectations of privacy against employer business protection needs, AB 1844 prohibits employers from requiring or requesting an employee or applicant to disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing personal social media or to access personal social media in the presence of the employer or to divulge any personal social media.

It also prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining (or threatening to
do so) or retaliating against an employee or applicant for refusing a demand or request by the employer that violates this law.

Excepted from this new law are employer requests 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.

Nothing in this law limits an employer from requiring or requesting an employee to disclose a username, password or other method for the purpose of accessing an employer-issued electronic device.

At the same time, the National Labor Relations Board and its counsel continue to opine on when an employer’s policies

or actions regarding employee use of
social media interfere with the protection
of concerted activity of employees to,
for example, discuss wages and working conditions, whether it involves union activity.

The NLRB general counsel’s third and most recent report, which may surprise nonunion employers, is at NLRBsocialmediapolicies.

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