Effective January 1, 2013, California will join Maryland and Illinois in significantly restricting employers’ access to their employees’ and job applicants’ social media accounts. Signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 27, 2012 and fittingly announced via Twitter, AB 1844 provides that an employer cannot require or request an employee or applicant to do any of the following:

  • disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing personal social media;
  • access personal social media in the presence of the employer;
  • divulge any personal social media, except as provided in subdivision.

The law also prohibits an employer from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise retaliating against an employee or applicant for not complying with a request or demand by the employer that violates these provisions. However, an employer is not prohibited from terminating or taking an adverse action against an employee or applicant if otherwise permitted by law.

The law does preserve an employer’s rights and obligations to request that an employee divulge personal social media information reasonably believed to be relevant to an investigation of allegation(s) of employee misconduct or violation of applicable laws and regulations, provided that the information is used solely for purposes of that investigation or a related proceeding. An employer is also not precluded from requiring or requesting that an employee disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing an employer-issued electronic device.

A companion law, AB 1349 that establishes similar requirements for postsecondary education institutions in regard to their students also goes into effect on January 1, 2013.