California Employee Social Media Privacy Laws

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 Are Employers in California Allowed to Request Social Media Passwords?

In California, the privacy of workers is taken very seriously, especially when it comes to the world of social media. Under AB 1844, employers are strictly prohibited from requesting or demanding the social media passwords of their employees. This means that whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other platform, your personal space online is just that – personal.

This employers and social media privacy legislation was put in place, recognizing the growing influence and importance of social media in our lives. For many, social media accounts are a reflection of personal thoughts, connections, and experiences. It is where people often share moments from their personal lives, discuss interests, and express opinions.

Just as an employer wouldn’t have the right to access an employee’s personal diary or mail, they similarly do not have the right to access personal social media accounts. Doing so breaches the boundary between one’s professional and personal life.

This law also serves to protect workers from potential discrimination. By gaining unwarranted access to personal posts, photos, or connections, employers might learn about an employee’s religious beliefs, sexual orientation, political affiliations, and more. This information could inadvertently (or purposefully) influence employment decisions, which is both unethical and, in many cases, illegal.

It’s essential for workers in California to be aware of these protections. If you’re posting on your private accounts, rest assured that your content should remain inaccessible to your employer. If ever pressured to provide such access, remember that the law is on your side, defending your right to privacy.

How Can California Social Media Employee Privacy Rights Be Violated?

California, known for both its tech companies and progressive labor laws, has been at the forefront of defining the boundaries between employers and the online lives of their employees. But sometimes, the lines get blurred, and violations occur. Let’s explore this in more detail.

Invasion of Privacy

Perhaps the most straightforward violation of privacy rights is when an employer tries to access an employee’s private social media account without their knowledge or consent. For example, requesting passwords or attempting to use subversive means to view restricted content can lead to legal consequences. California Labor Code Section 980 prohibits employers from requesting access to an employee’s personal social media.

Retaliation Based on Online Activity

Another potential violation is when employers take adverse actions against employees based on their private social media posts. This might include disciplining, firing, or denying promotions because of something an employee posted on their personal social media account. Employees have the right to express themselves and associate freely online. As long as these actions don’t impede their professional responsibilities or violate other legitimate company policies, they should be protected.

Trade Secrets and Intellectual Property

This is a tricky area. While companies have a legitimate interest in protecting their trade secrets and intellectual property, they cannot use these concerns as a blanket excuse to monitor or restrict their employees’ online activities.

If an employee deliberately or inadvertently shares confidential company information online, the company might have grounds for taking action. However, it’s crucial for companies to have clear, well-communicated policies in place about what constitutes confidential information and the consequences of sharing it.

Overly Broad Social Media Policies

Some employers might try to establish social media policies that are too restrictive, infringing on employees’ rights to free expression. For instance, a policy that prohibits any negative remarks about the company could be seen as overly broad. This is because it could prevent employees from discussing legitimate workplace concerns.

Public vs. Private Distinction

It’s essential to note the difference between public and private posts. If an employee chooses to share something publicly on social media, it’s more challenging to argue a breach of privacy if an employer sees and acts on it. However, if an employer goes out of their way to access private or restricted content, that could constitute a violation.

Personal Devices at Work

With the rise of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, another potential violation point is employers accessing personal devices brought to the workplace. Even if an employer has a legitimate reason to access the device, such as for work-related tasks, they should avoid accessing personal content, including private social media activity.

What if I Feel My Social Media Privacy Rights Were Violated as an Employee? What Remedies Are Available to Me?

Feeling that your employer has violated your social media privacy can be unsettling. Knowing the available remedies can empower you to take appropriate action. Below, we outline the steps you can take if you believe your rights were violated, as well as the possible outcomes.


The first step in any potential legal situation is to document the violation thoroughly. Capture screenshots, emails, or any other evidence that indicates your employer accessed or used your private social media information without your permission.

Speak with HR

Often, addressing your concerns with the Human Resources department can provide clarity. They might offer a solution, explanation, or take necessary actions against any violations. Also, it officially puts the company on notice about the potential violation, which can be crucial for any future steps you might take.

Consult an Attorney

If you believe there’s been a clear violation and you’re not satisfied with the company’s response, consider seeking advice from an employment attorney. A California lawyer can guide you on social media policy disputes and potential legal remedies, including potential damages or settlements.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The Federal Trade Commission protects consumer rights, including issues related to online privacy. If you feel that your rights were violated, you can file a complaint with the FTC. They can investigate the matter and potentially take enforcement actions against companies found to be in violation of privacy regulations. While the FTC doesn’t provide individual remedies (i.e., compensation to individuals), their actions can lead to changes in company practices and potentially significant penalties for the company.

State-Level Remedies

Different states have different laws when it comes to digital privacy. In California, for example, the Labor Code Section 980 prohibits employers from asking employees for their social media passwords. If your employer violated state-specific laws, you might be entitled to remedies at the state level, either through regulatory agencies or the courts.

Civil Lawsuit

In extreme cases where there has been a clear violation and damages (like emotional distress, loss of job, etc.), you might consider filing a civil lawsuit against your employer. While this can be time-consuming and potentially costly, if successful, you could be awarded damages.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Some employment contracts include clauses that mandate disputes to be settled through arbitration or other forms of ADR. While these methods can be quicker and less adversarial than traditional court proceedings, they may limit the remedies available to you.

Seeking Reinstatement

If you were wrongfully terminated due to a social media privacy violation, one remedy might be to seek reinstatement to your former position. Depending on the situation and the company, this could be a preferred outcome.

Do Employee Social Media Privacy Laws Apply to My Social Media Activity Outside of Work?

Yes, what you do on social media outside of work is still protected. This means if you post pictures from a fun weekend or chat with friends, your job shouldn’t be at risk. Your right to privacy covers your life outside of work, too.

Should I Hire a California Employment Law Attorney?

If you’re having trouble with your job and social media, it might be a good idea to get some help. A California lawyer knows all about these rules and can guide you. If you’re unsure about your rights or what to do next, reach out for help.

LegalMatch can connect you with a California employment lawyer who can assist you. Don’t wait – protect your rights and get the advice you need today.

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