California is poised to be on the front lines of implementing laws governing when and if employers can require applicants or employees to divulge their social media passwords and grant employer access as part of the hiring process or in the course of the employment relationship.  Last week, the California Senate voted 28-5 in favor of Assembly Bill 1844, which would prohibit employers from forcing employees and prospective workers to turn over usernames and passwords for their social media accounts and also would ban employers from discharging, disciplining or threatening to retaliate against employees or job applicants who did not comply with such requests.  Of note, the Senate’s proposed amendments clarify that employers may request personal social media information when related to an investigation involving alleged workplace misconduct or violations of the law.  The Senate also amended the bill to specify that the State’s labor commissioner is not required to investigate or determine any violations of the bill.  The proposed bill next moves to the Assembly for a vote.

This proposed California bill comes on the heels of multiple memoranda issued by the National Labor Relations Board analyzing various implications of social media in the workplace and specifically opining on what employers can and cannot review and regulate in the context of employee (and applicant) rights.  There currently are hundreds of cases pending before the National Labor Relations Board concerning social media issues — and the Board has made it abundantly clear that its jurisdiction to protect employee rights is not limited to organized (“unionized”) workplaces.

Maryland passed the first state law prohibiting employers from requiring disclosure of social media information which goes into effect October 1, 2012.  Illinois also passed a similar law on August 1, 2012 (see our prior coverage here) which takes effect on January 1, 2013.   Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York are also currently considering similar legislation.