Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube. Each gives you a window into your candidate’s personal life: the positive and the negative. Peeking into that window as part of interviewing and hiring can expose you to risk you can easily avoid.
Using social media to screen candidates is a common practice, and there can be valuable information you can lawfully consider. Though you shouldn’t use it to make final employment decisions, it can be an extension of the résumé; a conversation starter that gives the interviewer a deeper understanding of the candidate.
Your risk starts when you review a candidate’s online profile. A court will assume you are aware of “protected characteristics” that are often part of online postings. From a candidate’s picture, you may learn his or her likely race, approximate age, and gender. People commonly post personal information relating to medical or family problems, religion, sexual orientation, and so forth. You will be smart to avoid letting “protected characteristics” affect hiring decisions.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep you out of trouble:
- Do it later. Check social media files after you’ve met a candidate face to face. In this way, you are less likely to be accused of making snap selection decisions or of relying on protected characteristics evident from a social network profile.
- Don’t ask for passwords. Look only at content that is public. You do owe your candidate a “heads up” that you will be reviewing any “publicly posted social media accounts.”
- Do it through HR. It is best if someone in HR, rather than the hiring manager, checks candidates’ social media profiles. The HR professional is more likely to know what can and cannot be considered.
- Don’t look at only one applicant’s social media profiles. If you use social media at all, do the same searches at the same point in the process for every applicant.
- Do be cautious about relying on negative information to justify an employment decision. Document your decisions. Print or save screen shots if you see something that causes you to question the candidate’s candor, professionalism or judgment. This protects you if the damaging content has been deleted by the time a decision is challenged.
- Do consider the source. Focus on the candidate’s posts or tweets, not on what others have said about him or her. Consider the overall context. Give the candidate a chance to respond to social media content you find troubling.
- Don’t forget that other laws may apply. Even if you use an outside company to perform the background check, you still must follow the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It never hurts to have an employment law attorney review your process.
Social media is mainstream. Overlooking it today would be like ignoring e-mail 20 years ago. One of the most important intersections between social media and employment is in the hiring process. Consider the lawful side of this process, and you may be able to hire the best employee ever.