On September 28th, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed two privacy bills preventing employers and educational institutions from requesting social network login credentials from employees or students. Bill AB 1844 not only restricts an employer or school from asking for this information, but also makes it illegal for disciplinary action to be taken if an employee or student refuses to provide such information. The second bill, AB 1349 essentially does the same thing, but covers universities and colleges in a similar fashion.
When passing both bills, Governor Brown posted on his own Facebook profile, “California pioneered the social media revolution. These laws protect Californians from unwarranted invasions of their social media accounts.”
This issue created nationwide attention when earlier this year a correctional officer in Maryland was asked for his Facebook password. When he refused to turn it over, he was denied employment. Since the incident, Maryland and Illinois have both passed similar legislation barring this practice and a federal bill is currently making its way through the house as well. The Password Protection Act of 2012 reads similar to the CA bills, prohibiting employers from requesting passwords, as well as preventing them from retaliating against an applicant or employee who refuses to provide access to their personal accounts.
Social media searches have been a hot topic for some time. This new legislation should actually protect employers from garnering information that may otherwise subject them to a lawsuit. Social networks can reveal a person’s race, age, sex, political affiliation and even religion – all protected information when it comes to employment. If an employer sees a Facebook profile with this kind of information listed, but does not hire an applicant for any other reason, the burden of proof will fall on the employer. In the event of a lawsuit, the employer would have to prove to a court that even though they saw the protected information, it wasn’t used in a decision.
Social networkers should be cautious with what they put online regardless of these new privacy acts, as they do not protect employees or students from posting defamatory information about their employer or college on a social network or even items that poke fun at or embarrasses an employer. Backgrounds Online always suggests posting responsibly.