Is Social Media Screening for Potential Hires Legal?

11/13/2013 By
In a Word, No.

Social Media Screening for Potential Hires Legal
Photo by Mike Licht / Flickr
It’s a brave new world, Big Brother is most certainly watching, and he doesn’t need to spy. We bare all on social media, damn the torpedoes. The standard criminal background and credit checks we consent to when job hunting, do you really think that’s all HR is up to? And what about a dependable payroll service provider?

Beyond simply Googling your name, every Tweet is still out there, and Facebook is forever. It’s naive to assume employers aren’t ogling it all. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that 75% of employment recruiters scour the web, at their employer’s request, seeking any and all information about prospective employees, and 70% of these recruiters have rejected applicants based on what they found.

We all know employers are not allowed to ask us everything they want to know. Applicants are protected by non-discrimination laws forbidding questions related to your age or gender, your race or ethnicity, your religion, and if you’re married or disabled. But it doesn’t take skilled sleuthing to figure these things out on social media, now does it? And really, wouldn’t it be awfully difficult to NOT figure out these things from social media?

This goes further than an employer seeing the emotional horror show that some people feel comfortable posting to social media, the drunken bead-exchange photos from Mardis Gras, and the bigoted YouTube comments your Dad left while signed into your Kanye West Channel. These things likely should get you not-hired for general foolishness. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Especially not an employer.

Where employers cross the legal line is with knowledge of fully socially approved activity you may have shared. A commonly used example of this conundrum is the woman who posts an adorable photo of her baby bump and how she’s looking forward to paid time off when the baby is born.

Even though only a few states require this paid leave, if a prospective employer in one of these states saw that post, and decided not to hire you for unrelated reasons, and you noticed they’d viewed your post, you might assume your pregnancy was the issue, and you might sue. And you might win.

Or, let’s take this a bit further, you’ve posted a photo of yourself wearing your customary Sikh turban, and now you don’t get hired. Oh, noes! This information about you, your religion, your pregnancy, and more, is the type of information that is not legal for an employer to ask about.

Now What? Unsee?

As it is unlikely an employer will confess if they did use information illegally to make a decision, litigation will be the only way to decide each case until:
  • Laws forbidding this sort of candidate research are passed.
  • Advance consent of the candidate is obtained. And what are you going to do then? Delete, delete, delete!
  • Outside research companies, following strictly enforced guidelines, are used in place of internal HR research.
  • Recourse is available for contested information - the kind that might be obtained when Googling prospective employees with creative and unique names like John Smith or Susan Jones.
Author Bio: Adam Prattler is a freelance IT consultant and technology enthusiast. He recently made a website by the name of 'how to make my own website' that is best for newbies web builders. Now-a-days, he is using using femous social media websites for content marketing of his website.
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