On August 1, 2012, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a bill that prohibits employers from requesting or requiring employees or prospective employees from providing “any password or other related account information” to gain access to the individual’s social networking account. Ill. Public Act 097-0875. By enacting the legislation, Illinois joins Maryland as states that prohibit employers from obtaining social media account password information. The law amends the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, 820 ILCS 55, and is effective January 1, 2013.
Illinois’ new social media legislation confirms that employers maintain the right to create lawful workplace policies that regulate the use of computer equipment, e-mail, and internet use. Moreover, the law also allows employers to monitor employee use of the employer’s electronic equipment and e-mail. Employers also may still obtain publicly available information concerning employees or prospective employees under the new law.
As part of the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, the law is subject to investigation and enforcement by the Illinois Department of Labor. Potential damages under the law include reasonable attorney’s fees if the violation is found to be willful and knowing.
This legislation comes in response to public criticism of reported incidences of employers seeking social media account password information for purposes of evaluating position applicants. Illinois employers who currently engage in such practices should be aware that any hiring policy or practice that requires applicants or employees to reveal such information will be a violation of Illinois law after the end of the calendar year.