Header graphic for print
Trading Secrets A Law Blog on Trade Secrets, Non-Competes, and Computer Fraud

California Legislature Passes Bill To Extend Social Media Privacy Laws To Public Employers

Posted in Legislation, Privacy, Social Media, Trade Secrets

Big Brother can’t ask for access to your “personal” social media accounts in the public hiring and employment setting except in certain narrow circumstances if Governor Jerry Brown signs a new social media privacy bill recently passed by the California legislature.

The California Senate passed a bill to extend California’s social media privacy law to public employers last week.

The California Assembly previously passed the bill in May 2013.

The state sheriffs’ association and probation officers opposed the bill because they argued it could hamper their ability to investigate potential employees.

They argued that they want to ensure that departments can appropriately screen applicants as necessary and requested an amendment that would exempt any position within a criminal justice agency from the provisions of the bill. No amendment was included in the bill that passed.

The legislation will now go to Governor Brown’s desk for signature.

Labor Code Section 980, which the California legislature passed last year and went into effect on January 1, 2013, prohibits employers from demanding access to job applicants’ and employees’ social media user names or passwords for the purpose of accessing personal social media, to access personal social media in the presence of the employer, or to divulge any personal social media content.

The new legislation adds language specifying that it applies to public employers. Specifically, “employer” means a private employer or a public employer and “public employer” means the state, a city and county, or a district. Additionally, the new legislation provides that  “[b]ecause of the crucial privacy rights at issue and the growing abuse of those rights, the Legislature finds and declares that this act addresses a matter of statewide interest and applies to public employers generally, including, but not limited to, charter cities and counties.” (emphasis added).

Unfortunately, while many have questioned the need for the previous legislation in California and other states,  the new legislation does not address the deficiencies in Labor Code Section 980 that we have blogged on, including a definition of “social media” that is far too broad because it governs effectively all digital content and activity and the lack of a definition of “personal” social media.  Other states have provided more narrow definitions of social media and/or provided a definition of “personal” social media.

We will keep you posted on any material developments with the legislation.