Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1844/Senate Bill 1349 – Social Media Privacy
. This new law will prohibit employers from demanding their employees’ personal email and social media passwords as of January 1, 2013. The new legislation creates both privacy protections for employees and potential pitfalls for employers.
California has long been at the forefront of protecting individuals’ privacy online and this new law is one more example of the law catching up to what the rest of us may consider common sense. Many social media users access their accounts while at work, through their desktop or mobile device, and share things that they would otherwise not share out loud in the workplace. Most employees consider this type of communication, be it email, messaging or posting, to be a private conversation outside of the workplace. Some employers may not share the same view. This new law prevents employers from forcing employees to turnover their passwords to these ‘private’ conversations.
On the other hand, employers will no longer be able to ask their employees to disclose their passwords for personal email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social networking sites. Employers who do so, regardless of their intent for asking, may run afoul of this new law and expose their business to potential liability from employee lawsuits. Instead, employers should craft clear internet usage and social media guidelines for the workplace and define policies to mitigate inappropriate or wasteful use of such sites by their employees. A well-crafted employee manual should include this policy, among others, to avoid being the first business to have this law enforced against them.