Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak to the HR Compliance Conference in San Francisco about legal issues related to hiring. 

California’s New Password Law

In some ways, everything old is new again on this topic.  Issues like the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or the EEOC’s guidance on criminal background checks, have been around for years yet are taking new relevance in the age of Google and social media.

One new issue, however, is whether employers can or should seek username and password information from applicants.

Bozeman, Montana attempted to do this several years ago.  It was a bad idea then, and remains so today.

But a few states have now decided to pass laws on the subject too.  California is the biggest and most recent to do so — and employers nationwide should keep an eye out for more developments. 

For those in California, employers can ask for such information when conducting an investigation — that’s good for current employees — but for applicants, asking for usernames and passwords should, overall, remain off-limits. 

What’s the practical implications for employers? Review your hiring procedures and social media policies to prohibit managers from requiring applicants to disclose certain information and to prohibit “shoulder surfing” (that is, requiring an applicant to log in, while the employer looks over the employee’s shoulder). 

And if you have offices in California, be aware of the new law which becomes effective January 1, 2013.