As recently as 10 years ago, screening your job candidates meant picking up the phone and calling their past employers and references. Sometimes, making these phone calls yielded valuable information. Other times, candidates’ relationships with the people you called would influence their opinions.
Over the past few years, social networking websites such as MySpace, LinkedIn and Facebook have provided employers with an opportunity to look at potential employees in a different light.
The beauty of social networks is they invite people to share their lives, thoughts and opinions…all in public. I’ve noticed social networks are blurring the line between “business” and “pleasure”. This can get tricky for employers. Federal and state laws prohibit employment discrimination based on age, race, color, religion, sex or disability. Employers need to be careful when using information from a social network in making a hiring decision. There are no lawsuits yet but I think it is just a matter of time until an employer is sued for using a social network to screen candidates.
Here are some suggestions for employers:
1. Consult with your attorney and develop written policies and non-discriminatory procedures for using social networks to screen candidates.
2. Obtain written consent from applicants so they are aware you will be looking at their online profiles and personal information.
3. If a website is searched by a background screening firm on behalf of an employer, then consent and disclosure are required under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
4. Employers should never use fake identities or engage in “pretexting” to gain access to information on social networks.
5. The safest approach is to perform a social network search after there is consent and a job offer is made contingent upon completion of a satisfactory background check.