Attention Employers: 11 Tips for Using Social Media as a Hiring Tool

February 26, 2010 By Gust Rosenfeld In Legal Alerts

More and more business owners are turning to Facebook and LinkedIn to dig up information about job applicants. In a June 2009 CareerBuilder survey of 2,600 hiring managers, 45 percent of employers reported using social networking sites to research potential hires, a 22 percent increase over the year before. Another 11 percent said they plan to do so in the future.

Using the web to investigate job seekers can help employers verify a candidate’s experience and reputation, perhaps reducing the chances of making a poor hiring decision. In the survey, 35 percent of employers said that they decided against hiring a candidate based on information found on a social networking site.

11 Tips for Employers
Social networking sites have become a legitimate candidate screening and hiring tool. However, there are now concerns that this could spark a new trend-where job applicants start filing discrimination claims against employers, alleging that sensitive and protected information discovered through social media research was used against them.

If you’re an employer who currently uses or plans to use social networking research as part of your hiring process, here are some tips to help protect you from a potential discrimination complaint.

  1. Make sure you fully understand state and federal employment discrimination laws. Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against a job candidate based on certain “protected” characteristics. These include race, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, disability, age, military status, and anything else that places the applicant in a “protected” class. State laws may identify other protected classes.
  2. Recognize that discrimination concerns have some validity. In your social media research, you are likely to come across “protected” information about a job candidate that you would otherwise be prohibited from asking on a job application or during an interview.
  3. Be consistent in how you use social media as a candidate screening tool. Perform research using social networking websites on all potential employees and do so in a uniform manner.
  4. Think about developing specific criteria for how you conduct Internet-based research on job applicants. Your criteria could include: a list of the Internet searches you will perform; the information you will examine and why; how you will assess the information you find; how you will use the information; and how you will document any information used in the hiring decision.
  5. Obtain a candidate’s written consent to search social media sources as part of the hiring process. This is another way to put a potential employee on notice that you intend to conduct online research.
  6. Think about having a non-decision-maker do the research. Based on your established criteria, assign someone other than the decision-maker to conduct the applicant research. Instruct that person to move only relevant information into the potential employee’s file.
  7. Better still, consider hiring a neutral third-party to conduct all prospective employee research. This person could filter out any information that could lead to a discrimination allegation, thus protecting the employer from ever coming into contact with a candidate’s protected personal data.
  8. Remember that not everything you read, see or hear on the Internet is true. It is very easy for a dubious source to create a “fake account” about somebody else. There are countless reported cases where high school and college students have set up false profiles portraying others in explicit and unflattering ways.
  9. Keep in mind that social networking sites can reveal many positive qualities about the job candidate. In the CareerBuilder survey, 18 percent of hiring managers said what they found on social networking sites caused them to hire a particular applicant. These respondents reported that an applicant’s social media profile provided a good feel for the candidate’s personality and fit, supported the candidate’s qualifications, and demonstrated the candidate’s creativity/communication skills.
  10. Consider cutting applicants some slack. If information you found online leaves you with a negative impression, ask yourself how relevant it is to the candidate’s potential job performance.
  11. Don’t be overly paranoid. As long as you’re following these guidelines, take heart knowing you’re acting responsibly. Yes, there’s always a chance a potential employee could file a complaint, but the burden of proof will be on the claimant to prove you acted in a discriminatory way.

Social media is here to stay. It can be a valuable tool in the workplace. But employers are encouraged to consider these tips when using the Internet to look into a potential job candidate’s background and personal information.

For More Information
If you have concerns about social media, please contact one of the Gust Rosenfeld employment attorneys.

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