It’s an enticing notion to be able to peek into an applicant’s personal life and secretly find out who they “really” are. But would-be snoopers be wary – using social media as an employee background check tool can be like taking a stroll through a minefield. There is no doubt that the use of the Internet and social networking sites to recruit candidates and screen applicants is on the rise. And more than any other in recent memory, this topic has sparked a very passionate debate among human resource professionals, hiring managers, recruiters, attorneys and employees alike; all with extreme degrees of acceptance, or resistance, towards this “Internet culture.”
Sourcing and Recruiting
One area of contention is the use of social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to source and recruit job candidates. Given their growing popularity, especially among those just entering the workforce, there is good reason to tap into these resources.
However, there can be many twists and turns that must be navigated. Solely relying on, or inappropriately using, these sites can not only be deemed discriminatory, but there are also many qualified candidates out there that aren’t part of the social networking scene. It is best looked at as one element in the grander scale of overall recruiting practices.
Another area of disagreement is the use of the Internet (sites such as Google or Bing) and social networking sites (again, like Facebook or Twitter) as part of the pre-employment screening background check. It is something we at Clarifacts would highly discourage, as this practice is fraught with potential issues including discrimination, privacy, accuracy and compliance.
While many HR professionals and hiring managers utilize sites like Google or Facebook in an attempt to uncover information about an applicant, they often overlook the potential legal problems that arise when an employer inadvertently learns specific information about an applicant that they would have otherwise been legally prohibited from obtaining such as age, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, etc.
Once an employer has viewed such information, it will be difficult to defend any discrimination claims from applicants who contend that they were not hired based on the company’s knowledge of the prohibited information. It’s the old adage, “you can’t un-ring the bell.”
Similarly, certain applicants may allege discrimination if the employer subjects them to additional scrutiny because they have an “Internet presence” or holds them to a higher standard while viewing and considering the information as opposed to those applicants who do not have social networking profiles.
Where Does Privacy Come Into Play?
The topic of privacy is much more volatile. Some argue that the applicant has put this information out there and that they should be mindful of what they post. While that may be somewhat true, in many states, once you put your garbage out on the street, you have given up reasonable expectation of privacy and anyone is free to go through it. Most people would find that quite intrusive; especially if someone were to come across personal photos, letters or even an embarrassing prescription and then, even worse, factor their findings into an employment decision.
Others say that an applicant has a reasonable expectation of privacy and personal information should not be viewed or considered. Whatever your position on the matter, consider the purpose for making such a query. Is it in search of information that can’t be found during a high-quality interview and testing process? Is it job-related or just a quick open-ended search to discover if the applicant meets one particular person’s standard of decency? Be cautious of making a hiring decision based on, or influenced by, legal, outside work conduct or activities.
Smart Strategy or Sucker Move?
As an employment background screening company, one of our greatest concerns is the lack of verifiable data found on the Internet and social networking sites. The Internet can be, and often is, a place of make-believe, erroneous allegations and altered photos. What’s true, what’s not? How can it be proven that the information is factual and accurate?
The answer is, it can’t – which brings up two final points. First, keep in mind that you may be getting duped. The lengths dishonest applicants will go to deceive an employer can be staggering. Setting up an online persona or planting misleading information is relatively easy. And second, background screeners, as well as employers, have a legal responsibility to adhere to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which states, among other things, that the most accurate up-to-date information be used when screening and evaluating an applicant for employment.
There are several moving parts to the whole Internet, social media, recruiting, screening dynamic; many of which have yet to be defined. So the debate rages on…but without a doubt, the use of the Internet and social networking sites related to employment and hiring decisions will surely find its way into courts in the not too distant future. I guess we’ll all have to stay tuned.
If you’d like to share your take on the subject, we would love to hear it.