Is it a Good Idea to Use Social Media to Screen Applicants?

In the employment context, there are several instances when social media becomes important. During the hiring process, companies may review applicants’ social media profiles as a screening tool. During the employment relationship, companies may electronically monitor their employees and may continue to do so for a period of time after terminating an employee.

We all know there are unintended consequences of sharing information online and particularly that those photos demonstrating unprofessional conduct have a very long digital tail and can negatively impact employment prospects. A study suggests that social media profiles can contribute to even more fundamental discrimination.

On November 20, 2013 the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Bosses May Use Social Media to Discriminate against Job Seekers.” This article discusses the results of a study with Carnegie Mellon University that concluded between 10% and one third of U.S. firms searched social networks for job applicants information early in the hiring process and that candidates whose Facebook profiles indicated they were Muslim were less likely to be called for interviews than Christian applicants.

There is much electronic information available on job applicants, employees and former employees but do we really want to see it all when there is a risk an applicant can claim they were not hired or an employee can claim they were fired as a result of something on their social media? After all, an employer can have legitimate reasons for workplace electronic surveillance including staying informed as to what employees are doing, ensuring corporate rules are being followed and promoting workplace discipline. How does a company balance these competing interests?

First, the Facebook site suggests that all persons protect their privacy by configuring their Facebook privacy settings to share information with friends only. If the employee’s security setting is configured to “friends,” the company cannot require an employee to give them access and cannot surreptitiously gain access. However, even if the privacy settings are configured to “friends” the employer may still access social media but only if done properly such as when a coworker who is also a “friend” voluntarily shows the employer the private page.

Employers should be aware that currently typical claims generated from electronic surveillance have been sexual harassment/discrimination, retaliation, libel and other torts. The number of claims is likely to increase. Employers should also understand that there is considerable activity around social media as it relates to Section 7 of the NLRB that protects concerted activity.

It is always good to consult with trusted advisors and develop a corporate policy that is clear and understandable. Employers and particularly the decision makers simply do not want to know some of the information available on the internet and should not even be exposed to it when there is a risk of a claim being filed by an applicant, employee or former employee. Information should be controlled so that decision makers are only getting information that is legal for a company to take into account during the hiring, employment and post-employment relationships. It is never a good idea for a decision maker to use social media as a screening tool.

Recruiters, like JK Consultants, are extremely effective because they do all of the screening, testing and initial interviews. The decision maker confidently interviews and makes the hiring decision knowing that each candidate is qualified for the position.

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