California On Brink of New “Can’t Ask” Social Media Password Law

California is about to become the third state to prohibit employers from asking employees or job seekers for access to their social media postings.

Without dissent, the California Senate this week approved AB1844, the privacy measure. It now requires an Assembly vote and Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature before it takes effect. The Assembly vote is likely this week and is almost perfunctory, since it has already once passed there without dissent.

Backed by some of the state’s largest unions and the California Chamber of Commerce, the bill is similar to those adopted in Illinois and Maryland. Illinois’ bill was approved earlier this month and takes effect with the New Year. Maryland’s takes effect October 1.

The California exception

Each of the three states prohibit an employer from requesting or requiring employees or applicants to disclose passwords, usernames or other methods allowing them to access personal accounts. And the bills also prohibit employers from penalizing employees and not hiring applicants who refuse such requests.

Unlike the other states, however, California makes an exception allowing employers to get access to personal accounts in order to investigate “allegations of employee misconduct or employee violation of applicable laws and regulations.” That’s somewhat broader than Maryland’s bill which makes an exception only if there’s evidence an employee snatched proprietary information.

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Other bills have are being considered in Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Washington, and possibly others. Congress, too, has a similar law in the hopper. The federal bill provides for a penalty of up to $10,000 for employers who demand access.

Meanwhile, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was asked by two U.S. Senators to investigate what they called “a new disturbing trend of employers.”

In California there’s also a companion bill to the employee password protection law  — SB 1349 — extending the same privacy rights to college students and employees and admissions applicants.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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