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Can My Boss Check My Facebook?

Due diligence or violation of freedom of speech? As a lawsuit in Houston challenges the state police department’s policy on social media, Hoffman Estates attorneys examine what Illinois laws say about employer and employee disputes arising from Tweets and Facebook posts.

Houston Police Officer Sues Department for Unfair Social Media Policy

Carl Pittman, a police officer in Houston, filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office’s social media policy violates his First Amendment rights. The suit says the court should force the department to create a new policy.

The policy forbids employees from posting remarks on social media outlets that reflect negatively on the department. They also cannot post material that identifies their positions in the Sheriff’s Office. Pittman says this policy affects his personal life away from the office in an unfair way. The Sheriff’s Office says that this is a common practice for police departments across the country.

What are the Laws in Illinois for Social Media and Employment?

While most companies create their own policies for what employees can and cannot post on the Internet in regards to their jobs, the state of Illinois passed a law in 2012 that prohibits employers from using an applicant’s private social media content against them when making hiring decisions.

Specifically, the law makes it illegal for employers to ask an applicant for his or her Facebook or Twitter password during the hiring process. Proponents of the law said that invasive hiring practices like caused many qualified applicants to miss out on employment opportunities.

When it comes to checking an applicant’s public Facebook or Twitter page, however, the laws are a little murkier. Whether or not a boss looks at your social media presence, he or she cannot make decisions based on certain criteria. Federal law says you cannot refuse to hire someone based on his or her:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Age (only for those over the age of 40)
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information

Illinois employment laws also protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, an unfavorable military discharge, arrest records, domestic violence protection and lack of a permanent mailing address.

For example, a company cannot decide not to hire you because it sees in your Facebook profile that you have children and worry that you might need to take extra time off. They also might disagree with your political opinions or religious beliefs, which cannot be factors when making hiring decisions.

A hiring manager might decide not to hire someone based on questionable behavior and risqué pictures. If the user did not make his or her profile private, the employer could be justified in doing so.

Lawyers for Employment Disputes in Illinois

Employers who are unsure about whether or not to fire someone based on a social media post and employees who were let go because of their online behavior should consult with a Des Plaines lawyer to see if the company acted within its legal limits. Wrongful termination lawsuits can arise when employers step outside the law when making hiring and firing decisions.

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