Using Social Networking Sites in the Hiring Process

Social media websites can offer substantial opportunities for employers who are searching for information about prospective employees. However, these social networking sites also create serious challenges if employers want to use them for employee screening purposes and background checks.

For some businesses, searching for the names of potential employees on popular social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook has become a regular part of the hiring process. Although these sites are very public and easy to access, many employers may not be aware of the problems they cause when they’re used as a tool in the hiring process.

According to a report from ZDNet in 2012, 56% of employers, along with resumes and other documents, check multiple social networking websites before hiring someone.

An applicant’s social network profile may contain most of the same general information you would find on their resume, sometimes these profiles also display information related to gender, relationship status, sexual preference, hometown, age and religion. The issue with using social networks as hiring tools is that when it comes to hiring, these personal topics should never be discussed. They’re certainly not on any new hire form.

If a hiring decision was made based on any of the personal information presented on a social network site, it could be considered as discriminatory, which then creates serious legal issues for that business. Unless there is a specific, job-related reason for asking an employee about personal information, the topics should be altogether avoided.

Generally, it is only acceptable to use such private information in cases where an applicant is demonstrating behavior outside of work that could interfere with their job responsibilities, or if there is a direct link between the information on an applicant’s profile and their job obligations.

Significant legal issues that should be fully understood when using the Internet for screening potential and current employees:

  • Invasion of privacy – Some social networking sites state specifically in their “Terms of Use” that it’s illegal to use any member’s profile information for commercial reasons.
  • State protected privacy – Some states, such as New York, have laws that prevent employers from interfering in employees’ private lives outside of the workplace.
  • Discrimination – If you happened to stumble across an applicant’s personal information unintentionally, it’s still considered to be unlawful to deny employment based on protected categories such as race or gender.
  • False information – Not surprisingly, some users on social networking sites publicly post information that is entirely untrue, therefore, it’s best to rely on the information that is presented directly by the applicant.
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act – When using an outside agency to conduct background checks on job candidates, it’s necessary to comply with the FCRA and receive the applicant’s consent before starting the background screening process.

Businesses should unanimously develop a standard hiring process that includes specific rules for using social networking websites. Managers and supervisors who are involved in the hiring process should be trained on the correct and incorrect ways to use the information found on those sites, and should approach this method of retrieving background information with extreme caution to avoid legal problems.

About the author:
Bailey Brumbach writes on behalf of HRdirect.Com, one of the industry's leading sources of HR forms, labor law posters, and attendance tracking solutions.
My website is at:


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