Illinois to Employers: Keep Your Hands Off Employees' Facebook Passwords

| Marcus, Ellen

This just in: on Thursday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a new law making it unlawful for an employer to request or require an employee or prospective employee to provide the password for his or her account or profile on a social networking site. The law, which amends Illinois’s existing Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, and goes into effect on January 1, 2013, supposedly addresses the trend of employers requiring job applicants to give access to their Facebook profiles as part of the job application process.

Are you skeptical that this is really a trend? So was I, and I found this.

Nevertheless, in addition to the Illinois legislature and governor, lawmakers in Maryland have come to the rescue of the workforce, and lawmakers on the Hill are on their way.

Not a very daring rescue, I might add. The Illinois law will not prohibit an employer from requiring an employee or prospective employee to provide the password to his or her e-mail account, which arguably has far more private information than a Facebook profile that is intended to be accessed by at least some people other than the account-holder. If an employer violates the Illinois law, the employee or prospective employee could sue for actual damages, after first making a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor. For willing and knowing violations by the employer, up to $500 per employee and reasonable attorneys’ fees are also available.

Will the threat of the $500 fine, the other legal risks inherent in employers requiring employees or prospective employees to share private information that happens to be on-line, or the fact that it may not be the smartest business practice keep companies from demanding access to the social networking site accounts of employees or job applicants? Time will tell.

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