When it comes to social media, almost everyone prefers the kind of privacy that would prevent an employer from viewing each of his or her posts, tweets, updates, or photograph tags. It’s a good thing that the Illinois legislature agrees, because as of January 1, 2017, Illinois law has progressed to favor employees and the right to privacy concerning their respective personal social media accounts with an amendment to what is known as the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act.
Illinois law now prohibits an employer or prospective employer from requesting, requiring, or coercing any employee or potential employee to provide their user name and password or other related account information to gain access to that employee or potential employee’s personal online account. 820 ILCS 55/10 (b)(1). This amended law defines “personal online account” as an online account “that is used by a person primarily for personal purposes,” and does not include “an account created, maintained, used or accessed by a person for a business purpose of the person’s employer or prospective employer.” 820 ILCS 55/10 (b)(6)(B).
The law also expands employee privacy by making it unlawful for an employer to request, require, or coerce an employee or prospective employee to authenticate or access his or her online account in the presence of that employer. 820 ILCS 55/10 (b)(1)(B). Employers also cannot fire, discipline, or retaliate against an employee or potential employee for 1) failing to provide an employer the personal username or password associated with the employee’s personal online account, 2) declining or refusing to authenticate or assess his or her personal account in front of the employer, 3) refusing to “invite” or add the employer to join a group affiliated with the employee’s personal account, 4) refusing to join the employer’s online account, or 5) filing or causing the filing of a complaint concerning these issues. 820 ILCS 55/10 (b)(1)(E).
The effects of this law are great as it allows the employee or job applicant freedom from the employer having access to private social media accounts, including ones that are password protected or filtered from the public eye. This law also gives employees the ability to disallow an employer from joining the employee’s personal online account networks and circles, and vice versa.
Despite these benefits, other portions of the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act still stand to protect certain employer’s rights. These rights include, but are not limited to, an employer’s right to control policies regarding internet use and social networking site use in the workplace and the right to monitor the use of the employer’s electronic equipment by the employee without relying on the worker’s personal online account passwords. 820 ILCS 55/10 (b)(2). Importantly, employers still have the right to obtain information about an employee or job applicant that is in the public domain or information that is otherwise obtained in compliance with federal or state law. 820 ILCS 55/10 (b)(3).
Employees and employers alike should take caution with how they use and share their individual online accounts. If you would like more information on this subject, you can contact the author, attorney Annette Wojciechowski, at 847-705-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.