The practice of searching applicants’ social media accounts for background information is drawing increasing scrutiny. It’s legally risky.
When deciding whether to check applicants’ social media content for background-check purposes, consider these questions:
1. What information are you looking for and why? It’s unlawful to consider an applicant’s gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation, age, disability or religion when making hiring decisions. Social media may reveal all that information.
2. Is the information relevant to the hiring decision? Social media posts often contain information that warrants rejection of a candidate. But a lot of the information may be questionable in terms of making a decision. How will you fairly evaluate that information?
3. Is the information reliable? It is possible to discover important and truthful information about an applicant using social media checks, but it is also likely to be a very unreliable process. Traditionalare generally reliable because they rely on courts, schools and past employers. By contrast, social media sources may contain false, doctored and biased information.
Social media posts can easily be forged. Photographs and other information are easily manipulated and distorted with today’s technology.
If seemingly negative information is revealed during a social media check, give the candidate an opportunity to offer an explanation or dispute the information. The applicant’s explanation could reveal maturity and honesty, or it could show evasiveness and dishonesty.
Final note: Periodically review your applicant screening practices to determine if your approach has improved the effectiveness of the organization’s hiring process and the quality of new hires. Answer these questions for perspective:
- How, if ever, should checks supplement more traditional means of vetting applicants’ credentials and pre- for adverse information?
- What types of information does the organization need and how will that information be weighted?
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