Q: I hear the California Legislature passed a law to restrict employers' access to the social media accounts of employees. Can you tell me more about this?
- G.Z., Westchester
Answer: Actually, the California Legislature passed two new laws, both signed by the governor in late September. One (Assembly Bill 1844) limits employers from asking employees for social media account information, and the other (Senate Bill 1349) limits post-secondary schools from asking the same information of students.
AB 1844 precludes an employer from requesting or requiring passwords, user names, or other social media account information from employees and job applicants. If an employee declines to provide the requested information, the employer cannot retaliate, discipline or fire that person. There is an exception: Employers are still entitled to request social media account information relevant to any investigation of workplace misconduct.
SB 1349 protects employees, existing or prospective students, and student groups. Here, too, there is an exception for investigation of, or punishment for, student misconduct.
Bottom line: Privacy rights are being better protected now as a result of these two new laws. There is concern that the definition of "social media" is vague, and questions will arise as to just when an account is personal as opposed to part of the employment or student-school relationship. Thus, issues might be tested in court, or may come to bear as time passes.
Q: What has happened with California's False Claims Act? It was just changed.
- G.B., San Pedro
A: False Claims Act legislation dates back more than 100 years. At that time, businesses and various people were selling Union Army horses and mules that were lame and sick, firearms that were defective, and food that at times was rotten. FCA laws, at the federal and state levels, deem it illegal for people and businesses to claim monies from governmental entities for services and goods that are in excess of what is required, or which are not actually made available (i.e., you pay something for nothing), or which are turned over but which do not conform with the contract at hand.
California Assembly Bill 2492, recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, amends the California False Claims Act so that it is more in synch with the federal False Claims Act. Specifically, it modifies the definition of "conduct" covered by the act here, and increases civil penalties for each violation. Further, an employee who violates the act, as part of carrying out his or her job, can more readily file a lawsuit against the employer, and be awarded a portion of the proceeds garnered from it. (In turn, a court can reduce what might be awarded to the employee based on his or her actions.) The changes under AB 2492 go into effect on Jan. 1.
Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 30 years of experience. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email questions and comments to him at RonSEsq@aol.com or write to him at Ask The Lawyer, Daily Breeze, 21250 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 170, Torrance, CA 90503. This column is a summary of the law and not a substitute for legal consultation on any particular case.