Editor’s Note: LoganSquarist staff writer Emily Wessel Farr is owner and partner at Ardent Law in Logan Square. She will be contributing a monthly column on legal matters.
If you’re human, you’ve likely taken a moment at work to check your email, like a photo of a puppy, or tweet a witty observation. If you’re paranoid, you wonder if anyone’s watching. The answer? Maybe.
Home is where the heart is – and it’s also where the Fourth Amendment shines. Your right to privacy is healthiest under the hearth. The office? Not so much. Your work computer is company property, plain and simple. Your employer has a right to monitor any and all actions you take on that computer.
But what if you are checking a personal, password-protected email while using your work computer? The Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act prohibits Illinois employers from demanding your password. However, if information from that account is accessible, through an automatic login on your work computer, for example, it may not be protected.
The general rule is this: if you have personal affairs to tend to, use a home computer (note: a home computer is not an office computer inside your home, but a separate computer).
What about a cell phone? Same rules apply. If your company issues you a cell phone, it’s company property. If you want to keep your text messages private, be like Walter White and get a second phone.
Since email is so last decade, let’s turn our attention to social media. Your employer can (and likely will) monitor your public-facing social media activity – and often for good reason. After all, if you’re publicly tweeting about your lame job, it’s not great for business.
But what if you don’t publicly share anything, but limit your posts to only your 1,000 closest friends/that one guy you sat next to at a wedding? Federal and Illinois law protects your privacy to some degree. In 2013, Illinois became the third state to limit employers from demanding passwords to employees’ social media accounts. Unless you administer a “professional profile,” such as a Facebook page for your company, your employer may not demand your password or that you provide access to your accounts.
However, a recent case out of New Jersey reminds us that a “Facebook friend,” like a real one, can disappoint: When an employee shared posts on her wall to only her friends, one, a colleague, took screenshots and delivered them to their boss. As the boss didn’t request the screenshots or attempt to access the account, the company didn’t violate any laws.
Moral of the story? Keep your privacy settings high and, if you must vent about work over the internet, pay attention to who is receiving the message.
Emily Wessel Farr is owner and partner at Ardent Law, LLC, a litigation firm based in Logan Square.
Disclaimer: The above information is provided as general information, not as legal advice, and does not create an attorney client relationship. Before making any decisions regarding legal matters, individuals should consult with a qualified attorney.