New Illinois Law Addresses Privacy Rights of Applicants and Employees With Regard to Social Networking Websites

Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor

On August 1, 2012, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a new law, HB 3782, which amends the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act (+820 ILCS 55/1 et seq.) and makes it unlawful for an employer to ask a job applicant or employee their user name and password for the purpose of gaining access to that individual's private social networking account or profile. +2011 Bill Text IL H.B. 3782.

The new law takes effect on January 1, 2013.

Under this new law, employers are specifically prohibited from requesting or requiring employees or applicants to provide:

  • Any password or other related account information to any social networking site in order to gain access to that site; or
  • Access in any manner to the applicant's or employee's account or profile on a social networking website.

The law does not prohibit employers from establishing and maintaining lawful workplace policies regarding the use of the employer's electronic equipment and policies regarding the use of computers, internet, email and social networking sites while at work. The law also does not prohibit employers from monitoring employee use of employer-provided electronic equipment and email. The law permits employers to obtain information regarding applicants and employees that is in the public domain.

With the passage of this law, Illinois becomes the second state, after Maryland, to join the growing trend of legislation on both the federal and state level which seeks to address the privacy right of applicants and employees with regard to social networking websites.

By prohibiting employers from demanding that employees and applicants provide user names, passwords and other ways of accessing personal information social networking websites, employers will be stymied in their attempt to obtain personal and private information regarding an individual's religious beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, and off-duty activities and associations which may form the basis for an adverse employment action. Thus, the law will have the effect of minimizing the potential for state and federal antidiscrimination and harassment claims.

In light of this new law, employers should be especially careful when using social media to research applicants and employees and instruct supervisors and those with hiring responsibilities to avoid requesting such private password and account information. Further, employers should review and revise any relevant workplace policies relating to hiring practices or employee use of social media websites and other electronic equipment and technology in the workplace.

For more information on this topic, refer to the following additional resources:

Additional Resources

Social Media Password Privacy Protection Legislation - Chart

Employee Management > Employee Privacy: Illinois

Legislatures Aim To Protect Social Media Privacy of Employees and Applicants

Social Media Password Legislation Trending at the State and Federal Level