California law restricts your employer from asking you to provide access to private information stored in your Facebook, Twitter, and other personal social media accounts. The law generally makes it illegal for employers to request or require current employees (job applicants) to:
- Disclose their usernames or passwords in order to access their personal social media account;
- Log into their personal social media accounts in front of the employers; or
- Divulge any personal social media information.
As such, your employer (or prospective employer) cannot fire, discharge, or retaliate against you for not complying with a request to access your social media accounts.
But there are two exceptions to the law. First, your employer can require you to share personal social media information so that it can investigate allegations of misconduct or illegal activities. In this situation, your social media account must be relevant to the investigation and any information obtain from your social media account cannot be used for any purpose other than for that investigation. Second, your employer can require you to provide your username, password, or other necessary information to access employer-issued electronic devices.
Keep in mind that the law does not restrict employers from accessing publically available information on your personal social media accounts. Although your employer may conduct online searches and view your public social media profiles, it is illegal for the employer to make discriminatory employment or hiring decisions based on information learned from these searches. For instance, if your employer uncovers information about your race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, citizenship, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, gender, pregnancy, age, or sexual orientation, your employer cannot lawfully use that information to make any type of employment or hiring decisions.
Plus, as discussed in a previous post, it is illegal for a prospective employer to ask questions during a job interview that may lead to unlawful discrimination, such as: “Do you have children?” On that same note, it is illegal for a prospective employer to search for answers to these questions in publically available information on your social media accounts and then make a hiring decision on that basis. For example, if a prospective employer views photos of your children on Facebook, it would be illegal for the employer to decide to not hire you because you have children.
This is only a brief discussion of employees’ rights to refuse an employer’s request to access personal social media information under California law. If you feel your rights have been violated, you need to consult a lawyer. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.