Q. Currently, we don’t do any background investigations on job applicants. I’m considering instituting an informal background-screening program, whereby my HR director would conduct a Google search for every job applicant, in addition to looking at any Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace pages. I can’t imagine there’s any legal risk in researching information that is already publicly available on the Internet, right?
A. There is a legitimate risk that your Internet searches will disclose protected information about applicants, such as age, sex, race or medical information.
Consider the following example: Jane Doe submits a job application to your company. Before you even decide whether to interview her, someone types her name into Google and a breast cancer survivor group pops up. If you decline to interview Ms. Doe, do you think you would be open to a claim that you failed to hire her because you regarded her as disabled?
Despite these risks, Internet searches have some real value for employers. They just have to be done carefully and with certain built-in protections:
- Consult with your employment attorney to develop policies, procedures and guidelines for the gathering and usage of Internet-based information without running afoul of EEO and other laws.
- Print a clear disclaimer on your job application stating that you may conduct an Internet search, including sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, as well as general searches using Google and Bing.
- Conduct the search only after a candidate has been made a conditional job offer.
- Consider using a third-party to do the searching, with instructions that any sensitive, protected or EEO information not be revealed to you.
- Do not limit yourself to Internet searches as the only form of .