Posted on / Updated on / in Blog & Recruiting /

When you think of social media, what comes to mind? Probably a way to connect with friends and share your thoughts. Perhaps you even think of that person you went to high school with that shares way too many pictures of her cats.

Truth is, social media goes beyond connection and cat photos. In the business world, it can be used as a tool. It is increasingly used by employers for recruitment. But what about job screening?

In 2013, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a survey concerning the role social media plays in job screening. (You can read that here.)

According to the survey, 20% of employers said they use social media for the screening process. Of those who do not, the majority (74%) listed concerns about legal issues and/or the discovering of protected information as the number one reason they don’t.

It is true that using social media to screen candidates poses a legal risk to employers. If denied a job after a social media search, candidates could allege that their protected information (race, gender, age, etc.), as seen on their social media page, was used to illegally disqualify them from the job. Complaints about a violation of EEO rights, civil rights, age discrimination or other anti-discrimination laws may arise.

So why bother if this risk exists?

Some employers see the strategy as an added way to screen applicants and learn more about them. By viewing social profiles, employers can get a better feel for the candidate’s personality, professionalism, and how they will fit within their culture. On the other hand, they may find undesirable traits, such as inappropriate photos, badmouthing past employers, or poor communication skills.

There’s no question that using social media during the screening process is tricky. If you do decide to utilize this strategy, it is important to act in a way that will minimize your legal risk.

Social Media & Job Screening: 7 Tips to Minimize Legal Risk:

1. Create a company social media policy.

Having a set policy enables your company to behave consistently in social media matters. The policy should include rules for enabling or prohibiting the use of social media during the screening process, when during the interview process it should be used, and which sites will be viewed.

2. Wait until you’ve met the candidate face-to-face.

The best time to utilize social media during job screening is after an interview and before the job offer. This looks better to a court, as most protected information is revealed during the interview process. Therefore, it is likely that information was not learned through the use of social media.

3. Don’t demand access.

You cannot legally ask a candidate for access to their social media accounts. This includes asking for the candidate’s passwords. Stick to viewing what is public.

4. Look at every candidate’s social media profiles, not just one.

Consistency among candidates during the screening process lessens accusations of discrimination. Treat all candidates equally.

5. Treat it as part of the background check.

Obviously, for jobs such as social media managers, the candidate’s ability to use social media is a qualification for the position, and viewing their personal pages is seen as an extension of his or her resume. But in most cases, it should be treated as part of the background check. Remember: if you have an outside company perform the check, you need to ensure you act within the “Fair Credit Reporting Act.”

6. Print out or screen shot anything you find that affects the hiring decision.

If you find something on a candidate’s page that affected your decision to hire, it’s important to keep a copy. That way, you will have proof of why your decision was affected, whether the post gets deleted or not.

7. Carefully decide which social media outlets to view.

Facebook pages tend to be more personal than LinkedIn pages. Viewing a candidate’s LinkedIn profile could reduce your risk of discovering personal and private information. In fact, LinkedIn is the most commonly used social networking site by employers for job screening.

Here’s the bottom line: If you do decide to utilize social networking sites during your job screening process, it’s important to be smart about it. Consistency is key, as is making sure you use the information legally. It is also important to check if your state has specific social media privacy laws in place. Don’t let your snooping make the final hiring decision, but act rather as an additional screening process.

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about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.

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  • Vinay Johar

    commented on March 12, 2015 at 4:26 am

    This post is helpful especially in current scenario where hiring decisions are more biased and more towards favoring a one particular section. Framing a Social Media Policy infact would be the best answer to curb the increasing litigations on the job front.