social media and hiring fair use

Social Media In Hiring…Fair Use or Unfair Access?

A colleague asked a thought provoking question the other day…Do companies address social media in hiring, and if so, how? Good question.

In a world where the hiring process is meant to be black and white in order to make an effective hiring decision based on an applicant’s professional experience, how do employers address a gray area of accidental or intentional viewing of applicants’ social media profiles within the hiring process?


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Proceeding With Caution

Companies are still hesitant to discuss social media with applicants because of the variables associated with it and fears of potential discrimination if social media is used improperly. After all, an applicants’ social media pages may display protected information. However, with our personal and professional connections through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, it’s not uncommon to have direct or indirect social connections to potential applicants.

Often, employees spread word of job openings at their company by posting the job listing on personal social media pages. What happens when a “friend”, “follower” or “connection” is interested in that position? With that existing social media connection, a current employee has access to see the potential employee’s social media page in full candor. Once something is posted on social media, it cannot be unseen. So how much info is too much info for a current employee to see? And how much of that info can advertently or inadvertently be considered in the hiring process?

Develop Social Screening Guidelines

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released a survey in 2015 that showed 84% of employers used social media to recruit job candidates and nearly 50% used social media profiles or online searches to screen applicants.  This should not be too surprising.  Look at companies’ corporate webpages.  More often than not, there are links on a corporate page for viewers to “Like” their page, “Follow” them, or “Connect” with them on social media.  When individuals, who may later be prospective applicants, “Like”, “Follow” or “Connect” a company’s corporate page, the company gains access to view certain aspects of those individuals’ social media pages as well.

With the increasing number of people following the social media pages of companies in which they want to work, companies will need to develop guidelines on how social media information will be collected and used.  On the other side, potential applicants need to maintain professionalism within their social media page(s) and need to be cognizant that their social media page(s) may be viewed by individuals affiliated with the hiring process.

Be Aware of Your State’s Legislation

Also discussed in the Chicago Tribune article, llinois is one of a limited number of states that prohibit employers from requesting access or the password to a current or potential employee’s social media profiles.  However, that does not mean employers do not have a right to view what is publicly available.  SHRM has posted a list of states that have passed a form of legislation affecting online privacy. Since the publication of this list, the number of states passing “anti-snooping” legislation is growing so you will need to check with your company’s legal team to see if any states in which you hire have passed additional measures which affect online privacy.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) published a useful article that suggests a protocol for employers if social media is used in the hiring process.  It is essential to have a solid plan of action on how to safely and legally use social media within the organization’s hiring process to maintain a culture of non-discriminatory hiring practices.

7 Ways to Maximize Benefit and Minimize Risk according to SHRM

  1. Never ask for passwords. In several states, employers cannot ask an applicant (or employee) for his or her social media password by law. In all 50 states, asking for an applicant’s (or employee’s) password creates a real risk of violating the federal Stored Communications Act. For this reason, employers should look only at content that is public.
  2. Have HR do it. It is best if someone in HR, rather than a hiring manager, checks candidates’ social media profiles. The HR professional is more likely to know what he or she can and cannot consider.
  3. Look later in the process. Check social media profiles after an applicant has been interviewed, when his or her membership in protected groups is likely already known.
  4. Be consistent. Don’t look at only one applicant’s social media profiles.
  5. Document decisions. Print out the page containing social media content on which you base any hiring decision and record any reason for rejection, such as bad judgment. This protects you if damaging content has been deleted by the time a decision is challenged.
  6. Consider the source. Focus on the candidate’s own posts or tweets, not on what others have said about him or her. You may want to give the candidate a chance to respond to findings of worrisome social media content. There are impostor social media accounts out there.
  7. Be aware that other laws may apply. For example, if you use a third party to do social media screening, you are probably subject to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (and similar state laws). Also, some state laws prohibit adverse action based on off-duty conduct, except under narrow circumstances.

Fair (and Effective) Use

Employers who use social media for legitimate reasons may not be seeking to find negative items in the applicant’s profile.  On the contrary, that HR representative may be trying to confirm the applicant’s professional demeanor, professional affiliations and qualifications, along with viewing the applicant’s written communication skills.  However, if an applicant posts a negative item, such as discriminatory remarks or references to illegal activities, these items could have a strong impact on the individual’s consideration for the position.

If using social media in hiring, Human Resources, with consultation from the company legal team, needs to devise a consistent and fair use policy in accordance with adherence to providing equal employment opportunities. ExactHire does not provide legal counsel.  If you are considering the inclusion of a question(s) relating to social media within your employment application(s), please consult your company’s legal team to acquire their insight as to what question content, if any, can legally be included in an employment application. Once you have spoken with them, we can update your application(s) with the content you specify if you want an item added.

On a final note, since social media is a fantastic way to stay connected with updates and news, if you have not had a chance to..

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