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Illinois workplace privacy law amended to provide employers access to employees’ social media professional accounts

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act has been amended so that its bar against employer requests for information about an employee’s social networking profile or website applies only to the employee’s personal account. Such inquiries can now be made so long as they pertain to a “professional account.”

The Act generally prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring any employee or prospective employee to provide a password or other related account information to enable the employer to gain access to the account or profile on a social networking website or for the employer to demand such access.

The bill amending this general provision, SB 2306 (PA 98-0501), was approved by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on August 16. Specifically, it states that when the “password, account information, or access sought by the employer relates to a professional account, and not a personal account,” none of the other provisions of Section 5 of the Privacy in the Workplace Act will apply to prevent an employer from “complying with a duty to screen employees or applicants prior to hiring or to monitor or retain employee communications as required under Illinois insurance laws or federal law or by a self-regulatory organization as defined in Section 3(A)(26) of the Securities Exchange Act …”

The term “professional account” is defined as “an account, service, or profile created, maintained, used, or accessed by a current or prospective employee for business purposes of the employer.”

The law as amended by the new provision is effective January 1, 2014.