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Risks of using social media in hiring decisions

Risks of using social media in hiring decisions

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

According to a Career Builder survey, 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring, and 3 in 10 employers have someone dedicated to reviewing online profiles of job applicants.  In addition to social media, 60% of employers are using online search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing to research candidates as well.  
 
Information found on social media and the internet is incredibly revealing and provides insight about a candidate’s character and habits that might not be discovered until long after the individual has been hired. The Career Builder survey detailed the following items that employers are looking for when researching candidates via social networking sites:
 

  • Information that supports a candidate’s qualifications for the job (61%)
     
  • If the candidate has a professional online persona (50%)
     
  • What other people are posting about the candidates (37%)
     
  • Any reason not to hire a candidate (24%)

 
As the survey information demonstrates, many employers are routinely accessing social media to do applicant screening.  While there is nothing inherently unlawful about doing this, employers need to be cautious and aware of some of the legal ramifications of using social media for hiring.
 
One of the biggest legal risks is information employers might gain on an applicant regarding a variety of protected characteristics such age, race, sexual orientation, religion, medical history, and nationality.  The concern is that applicants may later claim that information acquired from their social media profile could have been used when deciding to hire them or not.
 
Liability increases when employers conduct a search that goes beyond public social media posts.   Invasion of privacy claims occur when employers try to gain information from individuals who are “friends” with the applicant on Facebook or Instagram or use the account of someone else in order to gain access to the applicant’s private information.  Other unethical tactics include creating a fake profile or pretending to be someone else.
 
Organizations that use a third-party vendor to conduct background checks that include a social media check need to keep in mind that they will need to comply with requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  The EEOC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have both concluded that “cyber screening,” social media “scraping,” and information obtained from data aggregators and social media data collection companies are subject to the requirements of FCRA.
 
When conducting social media checks, some of the key process decisions that should be considered are when are they done, what is looked at, who is doing the looking, and what is and is not considered in the hiring decisions.  Some best practices include:
 
Limit the search to truly necessary information.  If the goal for example, is to look at professional history, consider using sites such as LinkedIn.
 

  • Focus on public sites or public sections of certain sites such as Facebook.  Keep in mind that users don’t always have control regarding what is posted about them.  Others can share posts, post about, and tag someone without their permission.  Focus on the candidate’s own posts or tweets, not on what others have said about them.
     
  • Have someone outside the decision-making group conduct the social media search.  They should be given guidelines of what information to look for and informed that non job-related information should be disregarded.
     
  • Social media checks should happen later in the process.  Preferably check profiles after the applicant has been interviewed, when their membership in a protected group is likely already known.
     
  • Be consistent – social media profiles should be viewed on all applicants at a certain stage, not just a single candidate.
     
  • Document hiring decisions carefully and record any reasons for rejections in case the decision is questioned later.  As with any facet of your hiring process, you should be able to document what you did, when, why, and the steps you took as a result.

 
Organizations will need to carefully consider what makes sense for their company and weigh the risks and rewards of social media vetting.

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