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Should employers be allowed to screen job candidates based on their online behavior?

We all know that employers are getting savvy to social networking sites and the information we share online. But what you may not know is that conducted surveys shows that nearly 1 in 2 companies are doing their online due diligence for prospective job candidates!

So, should employers be allowed to screen job candidates based on their online behavior even if their actions are not pertinent to the listed job?

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23 Comments

  1. Terrie Leach 16 Aug

    Definitely not, in my opinion....some online accounts can be fictitious as ID is not requested to set up an account, in addition the way a person behaves privately is certainly not a reflection on his work ethic (remember the old saying "work hard, play hard?).....I think sometimes we lose site of the fact that employees are human beings, and a bit more complex than we want them to be, many companies doing this type of research may find they are losing some of the best employees........unfortunately, even if I believed in this type of monitoring, how would you prove that an enemy or office rival did not set the account up to be spiteful...or protect yourself from a lawsuit if the applicant finds out that this was the determining factor? Although personally why people are dumb enough to put things on the internet for others to see always amazes me.....
  2. Blair Cohen 16 Aug

    "Pertinence" is the key word in your question, most don't run credit screenings for positions with no fiduciary responsibility or run MVR's on non driving positions, it is not advisable to use derogatory information or even posess information that isn't pertinent to the job being offered. Some will argue that all screenings are parr of a piece of the puzzle and that cumulatively these pieces provide a clearer picture of each candidates character; I will accept that fact however, from a legal standpoint I would argue that use of any type of non pertinent screening information is imprudent.,
  3. Tony Ramos 16 Aug

    Why not it's public information. To properly address this question you should address it as an employer. How much does making the wrong hiring decision cost the company, other employees and customer? When interviewing someone for possible employment and our goal is to hire the best suitable individual, why not consider their reputation and public information as well.
  4. Patricia Gudonis 16 Aug

    The question is should a employer look at a future candidate's facebook page or similar site, I say yes and no. Yes, because it is window into that person's behavior. Do you want hire someone who preaches hatred for a certain group of people, one example. If you still choose to interview the person it is necessary to ask them about their site and what was said. I feel it is imperative that you ask them about their site and what you saw. Give them the chance to explain themselves. My two cents.
  5. Amelia Welshman 16 Aug

    I agree that pertinence is the key word. I think that any reasonable employer, although wanting to get an additional look at the candidate might want to do a general web search, it is the relevance of the bahaviour to the job that he or she is being screened for. Likewise if some behavior or action is seen that the employer is concerned about then question the candidate.
  6. Norval Henry MS 16 Aug

    I think if the facebook page allows access to anyone the employer can access that information . Due diligence is part of the employers responsibility.If the information is derogatory and no action is taken liability may be incurred by the company. There are alot of problematic citizens out there who appear other than what they turn out to be.
  7. Terrie Leach 16 Aug

    I think that you all have made very good points on this, and "pertinence" is an exceptional point,.....however, I have heard of teens and even some adults making fake facebook pages for others that they do not like. Unless someone provides you with their facebook page info, how can you be confident that what you are looking at is authentic and belongs to them?......If you are using a third party to look at social media, are you sure they are looking at the right facebook page?...Is any of the information embellished for the benefit of friends, providing it is authentic?....human beings are complex, and I think it is similar to comparing a personal conversation with a work related conversation. People behave differently based on circumstance.
  8. Norval Henry MS 16 Aug

    I think if the facebook page allows access to anyone the employer can access that information . Due diligence is part of the employers responsibility.If the information is derogatory and no action is taken liability may be incurred by the company. There are alot of problematic citizens out there who appear other than what they turn out to be.
  9. Terrie Leach 16 Aug

    Norval, there are alot of "problematic people that do appear different other than what they turn out to be". Does facebook present a true picture is the bottom line....and since identification is not required to set up an account, could the employer be "on the hook" if the information used while making a hiring decision had nothing to do with the position, or better yet, did not even belong to the applicant? That's what makes this sooo difficult........is the policy the same for everyone? ...or will you judge someone differently if they are a relative of an employee, or perhaps a different race or nationality?....perceptions can be tricky as well as discrimination lawsuits.........how can you draw up a policy so that everyone is treated equally under the law using social networking info....if you can cover all of these issue I might agree since you do make valid points...... as a side note I can tell you that I have worked for several people that in my opinion seemed to be heavy drinkers on their personal time, but were exceptional at what they did professionally...I think that if you look hard enough you can always find flaws......where do you draw the line? How do you verify facebook info?
  10. Roli Gupta Pawar 16 Aug


    It may not be very difficult to information about a person using different sources however interpretation of the information is most important. As people we think, act and behave dfferently, therefore such kind of subjective analysis may be very exhaustive however may not yeild the kind of results an employer is looking for. There is definitely the issue of authenticity of information or reliability of the source. What may help is what Amelia said earlier on, to do a web search to find out any adverse finding about the candidate which is reported.
  11. Guy Parent 16 Aug

    Facebook is a tool in like to a Criminal Record, Reference checks, Credit and even LinkedIn. One bad review does not make a bad hire necessarily to say that Social Networking sites and web information are indicators like anything else.
    If Billy's Facebook picture is of him standing with a bong in his hand and Cannibus leaf wallpaper as backgroud, then I guess I might ask if he'd be opposed to being drug tested. Just saying.
  12. David Sawyer, CPP 16 Aug

    Companies should be allowed to use any legal means to screen prospective employees, including social media. However, they should also understand the potential consequences. If your policy is to use Facebook to screen candidates and several have included a religious affiliation, a picture that may reveal race or a full date of birth, how can you defend an age or race discrimination claim? Seems to me the potential gain from researching info that may or may not accurately reflect an applicant's character isn't worth the potential risks.

    And be very careful using a screening company that searches social media and reports their findings back to you. This is likely a violation of FCRA which requires screening companies (classified as consumer reporting agencies or CRA's) to put procedures in place to assure maximum possible accuracy. How can a CRA assure that anything on Facebook is accurate?
  13. Chris Brogan 17 Aug

    here in the UK it is likely to be a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 and if the case ended up in an employent tribunal or court of law possible a breach of the Human Rights Act Article 8; Right to respect for privacy. In the rest of Europe where the privacy laws are even more strict the ramifications could be more serious. That applies whether the information is in the public domain or not.
  14. Alexandre Lienard 18 Aug

    Hi everybody,

    Here in Belgium, we have to follow the privacy and personal data protections laws. For example all things about the sex (and sexual orientation), personal situation, politics opinion, religion... can't be checked in a background screening. Criminal checks are not allowed : recruiters can ask to receive a criminal record check but if the candidate doesn't want he can't be quartered for.

    In my opinion, all "business" or "professional" information have to be checked in a background screening but within the law.

    Best Regards,

    Alex,
  15. Chris Brogan 18 Aug

    Alex,

    Thanks for this.

    If I was applying for the job of editor of the Catholic Times or the Jewish Chronicle I suggest that my religious beliefs could be relevant. As long as the request by the employer in these circumstances were proportionate would Belgium Data Protection law in these circumstances
    allow this type of questioning with regard to sensitive personal data?

    You say that an employer can ask for criminal records but the employee is not obliged to comply. It is the same here in the UK unless the position applied for is governed by statute. However wouldn’t the employer have to satisfy one of the conditions for processing sensitive
    personal data before lawfully asking that question?

    Regards

    Chris Brogan MA LLM FSyI
    Managing Director
    Security International Ltd
  16. Kristina Witmer 19 Aug

    Employers have long been making hiring decisions based on individual behavior even if their actions are not pertinent to the listed job regardless of whether this is discovered online or off so to me I'm not sure that this makes the difference. Although for an employer I guess online is more traceable, so therefore they are more at risk for lawsuits. I'm sure that's why Social Media Background Checks are going on to protect the employer.
  17. Charles Still 20 Aug

    My first response was to say no way. But after consideration I no longer believe the answer is as Black and White as I first thought. I go along with the principal that what a person does in private is their own business. However, I don't think much of anything online is private, especially Social Media. If you post pictures of yourself in compromising situations I don't think you have any right to say an employeer, or anyone else, should not use or consider that photo or behavior. It's you and you put it out there.
  18. Rufin Zamfir 22 Aug

    If you are a background screening company in the Eastern Europe with almost annual fake diplomas scandal, you probably should change your position regarding the issue. A social network research can (but not necessarily do) provide you information about the veracity of a diploma/the fact that one actually graduated a college/training course, by analyzing the list of contacts/friends ones have and compare information contained in its profile to the one in the Curriculum.
    As many of you already said, the problem is not IF we should check online data about somebody BUT how will the information gathered will generate a result. After all, the analitycal part of the job is at least as important as the research is, and by far the main reason a company will hire us.

    But what if a person don't have any social network account? Does that make it a sociopath? Or lack of internet applications use knowledge?
  19. Norval Henry ,MPA 24 Aug

    Facebook and other social media is only one source of information.I would not suggest that as the primary check on anyone.Fair for everyone?What is?You verify that information the same as anything else-be as detailed and comprehensiveness in your sources as the client is willing to finance.
  20. Bo Sepehr 24 Aug

    Thank you all for your valuable comments. We all know that social networking is fast becoming ubiquitous. According to a recent study, 40 percent of employers have decided not to offer a job to a candidate based on the results of that social media background check. It can seem harsh and like employers are being unfair on new prospects, but there’s good reason for business owners to be weary. With the rise of social media, it’s more likely than ever that a customer will encounter your employees online or that they’ll be representing your company to the world when you’re not looking. Sometimes protecting your business means not handing a loaded gun to someone who may blow a hole right through it. In the world of Twitter, would you trust an intern with your brand knowing they had a history of being quick lipped on their Facebook wall or berating old employers?

    So, as nearly half of all employers have figured out, sometimes the best way to find out how a potential employee will represent themselves online is through a quick Google search , LinkedIn Profile, MySpace or even a Flickr, YouTube account and social media background check.

    Now, before you go crazy searching their underwear drawer, realize that all employers may be subject to a BIG LAW SUITE!!

    So the answer to the question about whether social media use in the hiring process is legal is a great big “It Depends.” Employers should stay constantly alert and make sure to keep up with the changes in social media as they develop. Understanding the laws that may apply is an important first step.

    All the anti-discrimination laws that exist apply to employers using social media for hiring. Thus, it remains illegal for employers to base their hiring decisions on race; an employer that screens applicants based on Facebook pictures — only looking for Caucasian applicants — would obviously violate both state and federal laws on the subject. So for example, employers should:

    ----Train managers on the ways in which information gleaned from social media and from conducting a Google search on a candidate can lead to allegations of discrimination.

    ---- Have a consistent approach to conducting Internet searches in order to reduce liability exposure.

    ---- Provide hiring managers with ideas on how to get the information he or she is seeking to ensure that the best candidate is hired.

    Some limited exceptions that may apply. Under some state and federal laws, it is permissible for employers to have a BFOQ — a Bona Fide Occupa¬tional Qualification, under which they can use the otherwise-protected information to make a hiring decision. However, this is a challenging area for employers, and HR human resources personnel should consult with legal counsel if a BFOQ applies.

    Also consider the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which prohibits the use of genetic information in, among other things, hiring decisions. This prohibition specifically includes the conduct of Internet searches that are likely to result in obtain¬ing genetic information, even if it is publicly available. But GINA regulations do contain an exception. If an employer “inadvertently learns genetic information from a social media platform which he or she was given permission to access by the creator of the profile at issue” (such as an employee who posts family medical history on his Facebook wall, and his supervisor, with whom he is a Facebook friend, sees it), GINA has not been violated.

    One approach to using Internet searches for job candidates appropriately is to delegate that responsibility to a third party or a non-hiring manager like HireSafe. Using this approach, the screener has a set of defined principles that are to be followed for each search. In this way, the employer can have a strong defense that its searches are not based on any protected characteristic and that it uses the same approach consistently.

    Unfortunately, in solving one problem, the employer may have unwittingly created another. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) may apply. It covers situations where an employer uses a background screening agency like HireSafe to seek information beyond just credit reports — including driving and criminal records, employment records and other public records.

    Before obtaining any type of consumer report, an employer must:

    ---- Make a clear and conspicuous disclaimer to an individual, in writing, in a standalone document (not as part of the employment application), that a consumer report may be obtained for employment purposes.

    ---- Obtain the individual’s signed authorization to obtain the report.

    ---- Employers that then use those reports to make an adverse employment decision (that is, not hiring the applicant) must then make a copy of those reports available to the applicant and give that person an opportunity to respond.

  21. Greg Basham 祈柏恆 24 Aug

    It is not a question of should employers be allowed. The real issue is what you do with the information you find online if it is information the candidate for the job is not permitted to be asked in a job application to avoid discrimination.
    Here is the real nub of the issue.

    Do you want your recruiting screening staff to possess information that could lead to law suit? Do you trust their judgment in not shutting down the process for someone you now found online that you don't want working for you?
    These issues must be thought through before your recruiting staff get the information and make a judgment error that ends up costing your firm and brand a serious hit.

    I think these questions will likely suggest no you don't.

    The biggest deterrent for an employer to go online and do this social media searching is finding information that you are not permitted to ask job candidates. The onus in a court case would be on the employer big time. How can you then say "it was not the reason for us not to consider this person?" You can't so you have a good chance of losing.

    An example. I know from some work I did with the Rick Hansen Foundation some years back that people with spinal cord injuries have unemployment rates of nearly 40% in Canada. These stats are based on people who could work if given the opportunity but for whatever reason people with physical disabilities are not getting jobs or interviews if these facts are known. If your check finds the person's picture on Facebook seated in a wheel chair and you now don't call that highly qualified person in for the interview despite having work that they could do and a wheel chair accessible office. This could pose problems and complaints that a company does not need.


    However, if you understand these risks and trust that adverse decisions will not be made based on the internet search that uncovers facts such as the person is in their 50's and your firm hires no one over 37 then go ahead but be very aware of the risks of a time consuming and brand hitting law suit!

    If a firm decides to go ahead and interview a candidate but has found some postings on line in Facebook or blogs that are of concern and the candidate is being seriously questioned for a role where judgment is pertinent or where their presence in your firm in a key role could harm your brand then a good employer will tell the candidate this concerned them and ask them about it.

    If it is a job requiring good judgment and the postings and information suggest poor judgment it seems to me reasonable to ask such questions. I wouldn't suggest you de-brief the candidate and use a blog post as your main reason for passing over the person as an organization can select a differing candidate with an equally impressive list of achievements and skill sets. Note this last suggestion poses some risk but so does any recruitment exercise. You might even want to consult your legal counsel on this ahead of time.

  22. Daphne Large 29 Aug

    Employers should be allowed to use social media searches in the hiring decision as long as they do not discriminate based on information they may learn with regard to race, religion, age, sex, etc. Many times what you want to know about a potential employee is "how good is their judgment"? Some of what you find on Facebook and certainly deeper web searches can be very revealing about judgment. What if you found out an applicant had been searching for prescription drugs on the internet and had no prescription? Would you want to know that? Soliciting for illegal drugs? Involved in pornography? Part of a "hate group"? Posing with guns or drug paraphenalia? Would that, should that information be considered in your decision? I say yes. As you may know, there are now services to help keep an employer FCRA compliant with certain information redacted through qualified background screeners. Bottom line, if you post it for the public to see and leave a trail, a prospective employer should be able to reveiw and consider that information in the hiring process and determine if that is relevant information for the position and falls within their risk tolerance or not.
  23. background check 17 Nov

    for me its ok to screen all job applicants by means of background checking. it makes the employer comfortable
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