On Jan. 1, 2017, amendments to the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act (IRPWA) took effect expanding the protections of IRPWA to prevent employers from insisting on access to any employee’s “personal online accounts.” The broadened definition of “personal online accounts” now includes all “online accounts” “used by a person primarily for their personal purposes.” The IRPWA previously contained a narrower definition of the type of protected accounts and only prevented employers from seeking access to “social networking websites,” such as Facebook.
The amendments to IRPWA prohibit an employer or prospective employer from attempting to access employee social media accounts. The amendments state that employers cannot “request, require or coerce” an employee to: provide a username or password to any personal online account; authenticate or access a personal account in the presence of the employer; invite the employer to join a group affiliated with any personal account; or join an online account established by the employer. The amendments also widened the parameters of what constitutes a “personal online account,” which IRPWA now defines as any online account primarily used for personal purposes. Employers may still inquire about business and professional online accounts.
The IRPWA amendments do not prohibit employers from making inquiries regarding personal online accounts in certain limited circumstances, including to assure compliance with federal and Illinois law and to investigate an allegation based on specific information that alleges a violation of law.
Employers who violate IRPWA are subject to civil damages, including up to $500 per affected employee plus costs, attorneys’ fees, and actual damages, for willful and knowing violations. Further, any employer or prospective employer or its agent who violates IRPWA is guilty of a petty offense.
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