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State lawmaker pushes for less employee privacy

The so-called Facebook bill, signed into law last August, currently restricts employers from asking for employee user names or passwords to personal social media accounts.

Now Republican Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs wants to let employers have access to employees’ social media accounts if they visited them with a company computer or cell phone.

Durkin was one of few legislators last year to oppose the “Facebook bill.” The bill was passed by 55 of 59 Senate members in May 2012, including Republican minority leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, according to the roll call transcript.

The concern I have is that we haven’t really thought through the unintended consequences of this law,” Durkin said.

Heads of financial companies—which Durkin didn’t name—have approached him and are concerned that they can’t monitor employees who might be sharing valuable financial information through social media. He said his amendment would give employers a way to protect company secrets.

He added that under the ‘Facebook bill,” an employee could threaten a co-worker on Facebook or Twitter through private messages, but the employer could never request access to check out the problem by him or herself.

I don’t want the workplace to turn in to a crime scene,” he said. “Sometimes, the police cannot act as quickly as an employer would be able to.”

Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago) is vehemently against Durkin’s bill.

I haven’t been given a good reason as to why we should give exceptions to violate a person’s right to privacy in the workplace,” Ford said.

But one lawyer said Durkin’s bill will not change anything and is basically reaffirming employers’ rights.

Most lawyers” would agree that employers can access any website that was visited on their company’s computers or phones—those devices are private property, said Stephen Balogh, management lawyer at WilliamsMcCarthy LLP in Rockford.

The law would even allow an employer to discipline an employee based on information found on a company-owned device, he said.

However, Balogh said no employee in the country can be fired because of opinions he or she discusses with a co-worker on any social media site, according to the National Labor Relations Act.

 The moral of the story is that if you don’t want your employer to know what you’re doing on your Facebook page, then stick to personal computers and set your privacy settings,” Balogh said.

 Another legal expert said the bill threatens employees’ job security, despite the National Labor Relations Act.

Matthew Finkin, professor of employment law at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said employers could ask for access to a social media site for one reason but fire an employee for something else they find.

And in the U.S., Finkin said an employer has the right to dismiss an employee without any explanation.

I hope it would not pass,” Finkin said. “I’m not aware of any statute in the country that gives employers this much power.”

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