Illinois Enacts Law Barring Employers From Demanding Social Network Passwords

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CHICAGO--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed legislation Aug. 1 making his state the second in the nation to bar employers from demanding user names or passwords linked to social networking websites from employees and prospective employees.

Quinn signed H.B. 3782, which amends the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act. The new law (Pub. Act 97-0875) affirms employees' and job applicants' right to privacy in the workplace with respect to networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Maryland is the only other state so far to create such prohibitions, but the issue is gaining momentum in at least 10 other states (30 HRR 483, 5/7/12).

“Members of the workforce should not be punished for information their employers don't legally have the right to have,’’ Quinn said in a statement. “As use of social media continues to expand, this new law will protect workers and their right to personal privacy.’’

The new law makes it illegal for employers to request personal identifiers for social networking sites from employees and prospective employees. The law also bars employers from forcing employees and prospective employees, without revealing their passwords, to display portions of their social networking profiles for review.

Despite the new prohibitions, the law preserves the authority of employers to maintain lawful workplace policies addressing the use of electronic equipment, the Internet, email, and social networking sites. In addition, it preserves employers' rights to obtain information about employees and prospective employees that rests in the “public domain.’’

Law Said to Protect Employers and Employees.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), who sponsored the legislation, said H.B. 3782 places employers on notice about conduct that invades the privacy of their workforces. But the law also was designed to “protect employers from future lawsuits as much as it protects employees and job seekers.’’

Employment attorney David Ritter, a partner with Chicago-based Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, said the new law reflects views being expressed across the country and predicted the adoption of similar statutes in other states shortly. In addition, Ritter said H.B. 3782 reflects the current state of employment law with respect to access to information about employees and job applicants that is essentially personal.

“I think this law is correct. It really saves employers from themselves; prevents them from getting too close to information that is personal,’’ Ritter told BNA. “My advice to clients is to just not ask for these things. There are cases out there that have found liability against employers for doing these kinds of things. There are passwords on these accounts because they are private.’’

By Michael Bologna  

Text of the bill is available at