It’s increasingly common for employers to use social media during the hiring process. The temptation is obvious — there’s a wealth of potentially useful information about applicants available online. It’s not unreasonable to wish to use social media to understand a prospective employee’s professional qualifications and skills to determine whether they fit with the criteria for the position. It’s no wonder that a recent survey from The Harris Poll finds that seventy-one percent of US hiring decision-makers agree that looking at candidates’ social media profiles is an effective way to screen applicants. Furthermore, 70% believe employers should screen all applicants’ social media profiles, while the majority (67%) say they use social networking sites to research potential job candidates.
Despite the potential benefits, this sleuthing causes significant heart burn for employment and privacy lawyers and HR professionals. While social media can be a fruitful way to find and recruit candidates, a minefield of legal risks appear when companies use social media during the screening process.
- Discrimination! Federal, state and local anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination in hiring based on a prospective employee’s protected class. The danger of researching applicants using social media is that you may become aware that the applicant belongs to a protected category – something that through the general application process you otherwise would be unaware of. And, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. If a recruiter or hiring manager has accessed this data, it is difficult to prove that they were not influenced by it in their hiring decision.