Beginning January 1, 2017, employers will be further limited in what online information they can seek from their employees. This is part of an ongoing effort by the Illinois legislature to codify and define privacy rights both in and out of the workplace.
The updated law prevents employers from seeking certain information regarding their employees’ social media and online presence.
Employers need to be aware of the updated law, as violations can result in fines, attorneys’ fees, and actual damages. The overarching theme of the new law is that employers cannot force employees to hand over social media account information. This includes passwords, usernames, Twitter or Instagram handles, groups joined or information posted—namely, anything related to an employee’s social media account that is not in the public domain. Even if an employer inadvertently stumbles upon an employee’s social media account passwords or usernames, or any other information that would give them access to the employee’s social media account, the employer cannot use it. In addition, as may be obvious, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for refusing to hand over social media account information.
The only exception to the rule is also an obvious one—if the employer’s need for the social media account information is related to a valid investigation into an employee’s violation of law or workplace rule, then the investigation should be allowed to proceed despite the above prohibitions.
Of course, this law is still subject to the “you have no privacy rights at work” principle. If you do get on social media at work, your employer can gain access to whatever it is you have been doing. So, employers beware and employees be aware. Employers should stay away from the social media questions during interviews and not seek access to any online account unless pursuant to a valid investigation.