A bill making it illegal for employers in Illinois to ask employees for their Facebook passwords is one step closer to becoming state law.
HB 3782 was approved by the Illinois Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 55-0. The proposed amendment to the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act would make it illegal for employers to ask potential and current employees for their social media passwords.
“From a public policy standpoint, employers should not be allowed to look at those passwords,” said State Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago), a co-sponsor of the bill, in an interview with Progress Illinois. “That information is off limits.”
The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn to be signed into law. HB 3782 passed a House vote last month after being introduced by State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago). Read that Progress Illinois story here.
State Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), the bill’s sponsor, said in a press release that employers aren’t allowed to nose around employees’ homes, and the same expectation of privacy should be extended to the social networking sphere. She added that when potential employees fill out a job application, employers are not allowed to ask about age, sex, race, or sexual orientation—all information that could be easily gleaned from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
HB 3782 will force fair play from employers during the hiring process, according to Marc Siegel, a Chicago-based employment attorney at Caffarelli and Siegel Ltd. Siegel said that, without the bill, employers could form a bias against job applicants.
“They can ask for social media passwords from two applicants,” Siegel said. “You can be sure the one that doesn’t give the password won’t be considered for the job.”
While Siegel supports HB 3782, he said the bill isn’t strong enough. According to Siegel, even if an employer broke the law and asked an individual for their social media password, HB 3782 bars the individual from seeking a private attorney and pressing charges. He said the person would have to jump through hoops to seek justice.
Siegel said the complaint would have to be filed with the Illinois Department of Labor first, and because of a lack of funding, they can only handle so many matters and the process would drag on. He went on to say that unless there’s a threat of an employer having to pay for damages and attorney fees, some employers will not see a reason to follow the law. “You need that specter of litigation to deter overzealous employers from violating the law,” he said.
However, a member of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce prefers the protection from litigation that HB 3782 provides. Jay Shattuck, executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Employment Law Council, said while the Chamber of Commerce is taking a neutral stance on the bill, it agrees that no direct civil action should be taken against an employer.
Shattuck said employers can spend tens of thousands of dollars in court even if there’s no real basis for a complaint. “We believe administrative process helps weed out unjustified claims,” he said.
Illinois isn’t the only state that is having debates about social media and how it affects employment. Earlier this month, Maryland became the first state to ban employers from asking for social media passwords. Maryland State Sen. Karen Montgomery (D-Montgomery County), a co-sponsor of the bill, said there was little pushback from businesses during the legislative process. She said that when it comes to looking for employees, businesses in Maryland realize checking social media accounts will create more diversions than benefits.
Montgomery also believes this debate will continue to show up in other states. “People are beginning to resent the overwhelming intrusions into their private lives,” she said.