Dangers of using social networking sites to screen applicants

For many businesses, looking up an applicant’s profile on social networking sites has become a part of their hiring routine. What many may not be aware of is that using sites like MySpace or Facebook to screen applicants may spell serious trouble if you’re not careful.

Studies suggest that almost 40% of employers have used Facebook and other social networking sites to gather information on job candidates. When they find negative information on these sites, more than 80% of employers consider that information when making hiring decisions.

While personal profiles on social networking sites contain some of the same facts that would be on a resume, they also include information related to gender, relationship status, sexual preference, home town, age, religion and if they have or plan to have children. The problem is that most of these topics should never be discussed during the hiring process.

For a business to make a hiring decision based on any of the personal information just mentioned, it could be considered discriminatory and may quickly create a legal mess for your company. If you have no legitimate job-related reason for asking about personal information during the hiring process, you should avoid the topics completely.

The only exception to using information you find on the Internet to deny an applicant a job is if there is a direct link between the information and a person’s job duties. If an applicant is modeling behavior outside of work that could interfere with their job responsibilities, it is legal to deny that person a position.

While many human resource professionals have been trained the dangers of “too much information” in the employee hiring and recruiting process, the Internet has made it as simple as clicking a button to fall into more information than you would ever want to know about an applicant.

When you’re using the Internet to research job candidates and even current employees, there are some very important legal issues to keep in mind:

  • Invasion of privacy. Some social networking sites state specifically in their terms of service that is is illegal to use users’ profile information for commercial purposes.
  • State protected privacy. California and New York have laws preventing employers from interfering in employees’ private lives outside of the workplace.
  • Discrimination. Even if you stumbled across an applicant’s personal information unintentionally, it is unlawful to deny employment based on protected categories such as age, race or gender.
  • False information. It’s probably not surprising, but users on social networking sites don’t always post information that is entirely true. It’s best to rely on information that the applicant directly gives you.
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). If you’re using an outside agency to conduct background checks on job candidates, you must comply with the FCRA and receive the applicant’s consent before starting the background screening process.

To avoid potential discrimination lawsuits, develop a uniform procedure for using social networking sites in the hiring process. Train everyone involved in the hiring process to treat every applicant consistently to avoid trouble and document each step you take.

With the rate at which new technology emerges, it’s almost impossible for the law to keep up the pace. When you use social networking sites to research applicants, you may be taking uncertain legal risks with every search you make.

Is your business using social networking sites to screen job candidates? Have you found the sites to be helpful or harmful throughout the process?

1 comment:

Jesse Torres said...

Interesting related piece relative to a policy instituted by a Zions Bancorp subsidiary at


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