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California governor signs bill to protect workers’ privacy rights

Earlier this year on our San Diego employment law blog, we had mentioned that California lawmakers were pushing for better privacy protections for employees and job applicants regarding social media accounts and personal email accounts.

With more folks actively engaging with others on Facebook and Twitter, more employers have started to require job applicants and employees to hand over passwords for their personal social media accounts so that employers can see what employees and prospective employees are posting online.

Employees and job seekers are protected under some privacy laws, but it has never been clear as to whether it is illegal for employers to require employees and job seekers to hand over their passwords to their social media and personal email accounts. Until now, that is.

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed an important bill that will ban employers from forcing employees and job applicants to hand over their passwords to their personal email accounts and social media accounts. Employers can still ask for this information, but they cannot make it mandatory to disclose this type of information.

Additionally, when employees and job applicants do choose not to give employers their passwords to email and social media accounts, employers are not allowed to discriminate against them or retaliate against those who do not share their passwords.

Assembly Bill 1844 will take effect January 1, 2013. In addition to employers’ being banned from requiring workers to hand over passwords to Facebook and Twitter, another bill was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that bans colleges and universities in California from requiring students to give school officials their passwords to social media accounts and personal email accounts.

Although many employees and job applicants have already been asked by employers to show them their online accounts, employees and job seekers will now have a better understanding of their rights.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Brown signs online privacy laws,” Patrick McGreevy, Sept. 28, 2012

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