Among the seven hundred or so new laws that took effect on January 1, 2011 is SB 1411 that makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to impersonate another on the internet “for the purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person.” The bill, which was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger, adds section 528.5 to the California Penal Code and makes the offense punishable up to $1,000 and one year imprisonment.
The law specifically makes it an offense to open an email account or social networking profile to impersonate another person:
For purposes of this section, "electronic means" shall include opening an e-mail account or an account or profile on a social networking Internet Web site in another person’s name.
The law is intended to prevent cyberbullying that has occurred in schools and the workplace. This law will be an additional aid for employers to prevent any type of abuse at the workplace, and provide victims an additional avenue for protection. In addition to the criminal punishment set forth, it also provides that a victim may bring a civil lawsuit against the defendant for compensatory damages and injunctive relief.
For California employers, the new law stresses the need to keep current with the new obligations employers face in regards to social networking sites and and to review their policies about how they monitor employees’ use of technology, as well as what is appropriate uses of the company’s technology. Under the theory of respondeat superior, employers are vicariously liable for tortious acts committed by employees during the course and scope of their employment. Therefore, if an employee uses a company computer to violate the new law, the company could face joint liability in a civil lawsuit for compensatory damages.