Illinois Employees’ Social Media Privacy Protections Expand in the New Year

Company Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media pages have become the new norm. And having employees actively participate on those employer-created pages can be a very effective marketing platform.  Active social media pages help to broadcast the employer’s brand and showcase a strong community culture to prospective clients and customers.  As of now, employers can freely instruct employees to “like” company posts or join company groups from the employees’ personal social media accounts without legal consequences.  However, that will change in the New Year.

Illinois legislators have passed amendments to the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act that will expand employees’ social media privacy protections. As of January 1, 2017, the Act will make it unlawful for employers to require or coerce employees to invite the employer to join groups on Facebook or other social media that an employee belongs to personally.  It will also become unlawful for employers to require or coerce employees to like employers’ Facebook or other social media posts or to add employers to contact lists for their personal social media accounts.  The Act will further make it unlawful for employers to retaliate against employees for refusing to engage in these activities.

These new legal protections for employees build on other social media-based privacy rights that are already in place under the Act. For example, the Act currently prohibits employers from requesting or requiring employees or prospective employees to provide their passwords or other account information to gain access to the employees’ social media account or profile or to demand access to such personal accounts or profiles in any other manner.

Employees whose rights are violated under the Act can file suit in state court against their employers and seek actual financial damages, costs, attorneys’ fees, and fines. Moreover, employers who are found to have violated the Act are guilty of a petty offense, a criminal offense.

Social media has pervaded all aspects of life, including work, these days. Illinois lawmakers are taking notice and passing concrete measures to ensure that our State’s laws address the ever-evolving technology landscape in which we live.  Fortunately for employees, our home State’s latest amendments to these laws will provide greater privacy protections to workers.  We can only hope that these types of employee-friendly statutory trends continue into the future.