California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law a California Labor Code addition called Employer Use of Social Media. The new law is aimed at employers who request social media account access or content from employees or employment candidates. It loosely follows the format of similar legislation in Illinois and Maryland.
The core prohibitions of the California law are fairly basic. An employer may not require or request an employee or applicant to disclosure username and password, access social media in the presence of the employer or divulge any personal social media. However, the Californa law contains a singificant exception for employers. The employer may request an employee to share social media if it is reasonably believed to be relevant to an investigation of imployee misconduct or violation of law. This exception is more broad than Maryland's exception for securities fraud and trade secrets. Illinois has no exception. Also, the California exception does not apply to job candidates.
One other interesting aspect of this law is that social media is defined as "an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text message, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations." This definition appears to be broad enough to cover a wide variety of internet activities without regard to whether most people would view them as "social media" or not.
Employers in California should review this new law and update their social media employment policies and practices accordingly. Keep in mind that the exception does not specifically permit the employer to require the employee to divulge passwords. Employers in other states should stay tuned for the expected wave of state and federal legislation in this area.