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Social Media Privacy and California Employment Law

Effective January 1, 2013, California employees now have new protections with regard to privacy rights and their social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter. The new law adds section 980 to the California Labor Code and prohibits your employer from requiring or requesting that you disclose a username or password for purposes of accessing your social media; from actually being required to open it in the presence of your boss or human resources department; divulging which social media you actually use (there’s an exception her for investigations, read on).

This new law (introduced in the California legislature as AB 1844( also disallows an employer the right to discharge, discipline, threat to fire or fire and/or discipline, retaliate against an employee who refuses to comply with an illegal demand as listed above. However, the “investigative” exception does allow an employer to get your access data if they believes it is relevant to an investigation of alleged employee misconduct. (The new law does not affect existing rights of an employer to require an employee to disclose a username, password, or other information necessary for accessing an employer-issued electronic device.” That social media must be used solely for purposes of the alleged misconduct. So, for example, if you are accused of misusing your office computer by accessing illicit sites, the employer may demand access for that limited purpose. However, once on your site, your employer may not then discipline you for the use of your site to speak out against the company. This would not only be a potential violation of your right to speak to other employees (through your FB page lets say) but would suggest an invasion of privacy and free speech.

In some cases, employers have used access (mostly gotten illegally by employer-paid hacking) to discriminate against their employees based on association, friendships, possible FB relationships with competitors and the like. If that employer access was gained illegally or through subterfuge, you may have valuable rights which have been violated. Seek an attorney’s advise. Numerous federal laws concerning computer privacy may also be available to you.