When sifting through applications and deciding which people to interview, most employers look at applicants’ social media profiles. It’s become a key element in our everyday lives today. What they find can work for or against a candidate. Employers today have a wide variety of screening tools at their disposal. It helps that potential employees, like most Americans, regularly publish information about themselves. More and more companies are using this information – most of it accessible by social media – to pre-check candidates before they put out a job offer.
According to a study conducted by CareerBuilder last year, 70 percent of employers say they are now using social media to screen candidates during the hiring process, and about 43 percent of employers use social media to check on current employees. The goal, companies say, is to ensure that the individual is a good “fit” for the company, and to ferret out any reasons NOT to hire someone.
Employers who responded to the CareerBuilder survey listed the following reasons for pre-screening candidates on social media:
- Information that supports their qualifications for the job (61 percent)
- If the candidate has a professional online persona at all (50 percent)
- What other people are posting about the candidates (37 percent)
- For any reason at all not to hire a candidate (24 percent)
The temptation to check out a candidate’s social media presence makes sense, after all, they often provide a glance into the candidate’s “real” personality and access to potential information that supports their application. In fact, almost half of employers say that they’re less likely to even interview a candidate if they can’t find evidence of their social media profiles.
However, employers who wish to glean information from social media background checks open themselves up to multiple potential legal and discriminatory issues related to protected characteristics. Businesses that are aware of the risks of social media background checks will be much better placed to avoid them, and in turn, can use these checks to their advantage.
Social Recruiting and Social Media Background Checks are not the same
Before we get into social media background checks, let’s establish the difference between those checks and social media recruiting. Recruiting through social media is an activity where businesses use sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to attract both active and passive candidates (these candidates won’t be found on job boards or other recruitment platforms).
According to recent research, recruitment via social media is at an all-time high, with 84 percent of organizations currently using social media recruitment tactics to find viable candidates. Social media recruiting can include:
- Connecting with candidates via their social profiles (Twitter direct messages, Facebook Messenger, and LinkedIn Mail).
- Paid job advertising campaigns across social media sites.
- Using employee advocacy strategies such as posting employee testimonials and experiences across social media.
Social media is becoming a key social media recruiting tool. HR teams, recruiters, and employers are using social networks to recruit candidates and to conduct background screening to confirm a candidate’s qualifications for a job. Using social media to support the recruitment process can provide valuable opportunities for both the candidate and the employer. A recent survey from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found “the number one reason employers engage in social media channels is to attract potential candidates not yet looking for a new job.” Social networking is used by 82% of the organizations surveyed to recruit managers and other salaried employees (87%) and hourly employees (55%).
Social media screening humanizes the candidate and makes them more than just the words on their resume. According to CareerBuilder’s 2017 social media recruitment survey, 70% of US employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, up from 60% in 2016 and 11% a decade ago. Employers are also using Google, Yahoo and Bing to research potential candidates. More and more companies are adding social media screening as a part of their background screening process. In fact, 54% of hiring managers who screen candidates via social networks said they’d found information that causes them not to hire a candidate.
Legal Risks of Social Media Background Checks
However, while employers and recruiters may feel they hit the information jackpot on potential job applicants by using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, business networking sites like LinkedIn, videos on YouTube, search engines like Google, and various blogs and posts, the unrestricted use of social media background checks can land them in hot water since just because certain information is online does not mean it is risk free or even true.
When using the Internet to screen job applicants, employers and recruiters can encounter the following legal risks and potential landmines:
- Too Much Information (TMI)
Discrimination Allegations: When using the Internet for screening, employers and recruiters may become aware that job candidate is a member of a protected group based on race, creed, color, ancestry, nationality, medical condition, disability (including AIDS), marital status, sex (including pregnancy), sexual preference, or age (40+), which can lead to allegations of discrimination if the candidate does not get the job. All hiring decisions need to be based upon non-discriminatory information that is a valid predictor for job performance.
- Too Little Information (TLI)
Failure to utilize all available resources could potentially expose employers to lawsuits for negligent hiring if a victim could show that information was easily accessible online that could have prevented a hiring a person that was dishonest, unfit, dangerous, and unqualified, and it was foreseeable that some harm could occur. Employers failing to use social media web sites can potentially be sued for not exercising due diligence. Employers may be in a Catch-22 situation where they are in trouble if they use Internet background checks and are in trouble if they do not use Internet background checks.
- Computer Twins & Cyber-slamming
Most people have “computer twins” online, people with the same names and even a similar date of birth. Employers and recruiters need to make sure what they see online actually refers to the applicant in question. Also, “online identity theft,” false postings under another person’s name, and “Cyber-slamming,” online smearing with derogatory comments that are usually done anonymously, can be a problem.
- Legal Off-Duty Conduct
If a social media search reveals legal off duty conduct, a candidate can claim they were the victims of illegal discrimination. A number of states protect workers engaged in legal off-duty conduct and have prohibitions limiting the use of private behavior for employment decisions. However, employers do have broader discretion if such behavior would damage a company, hurt business interests, or be inconsistent with business needs.
- Privacy Issues
Another problem with Internet background checks yet to be fully explored by the courts is privacy. Everything online is not necessarily “fair game” for employers and recruiters. However, if users do not adjust the privacy setting so that their social network site is easily available from an Internet search, they may have a more difficult time arguing that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. The bottom line is that the question of whether an applicant has a reasonable expectation of privacy can depend upon the specific facts of the case being litigated, and the issue is far from settled. Until the courts sort this out one thing does seem certain: If an employer uses subterfuge, such as creating a fake online identity to penetrate a social network site, the privacy line has probably been crossed.
- Pre-Texting and Fake-Outs
Employers should not simply assume that anything on the web is “fair game” and freely available without consequence. One area where an employer would be flirting with particular trouble is if the information is obtained by manipulating the sites. This could be done by creating multiple identities or by using “pretexting,” which can include pretending to be someone else or something you are not.
Trends of Social Media Background Screening Trends
SHRM included social media screening as one of the top human capital management trends of 2017 as well as ban-the-box and the prevalence of utilizing screening data for hiring purposes. What do HR professionals think are important topics in their industry? According to surveys 500+ US-based employers in 33 industries about their use of background screening to gain key insights into emerging trends, technology and more. Background Checks for Employers uncovers details how HR professionals think about components of the hiring process and how they relate to the background screening industry, how emerging technology is impacting the candidate experience and emerging trends in employment background screening.
One of the emerging trends in background screening and one that employers are still not comfortable with is social media screening. 34% of survey respondents indicated that they perform social media checks on prospective employees. Of the companies that are conducting social media checks, 95% of the screenings are conducted internally and 5% are outsourced to a third party. In 2015, our survey found that 63% of companies conduct their social media screening in-house compared to 95% of this screening being performed internally in 2017.
- 57% of the social media checks are conducted by someone internally on the HR team
- 21% of these checks are informally conducted by someone other than the HR team
- 17% is conducted by the hiring manager
- 5% are conducted by a third-party vendor
When it comes to social media screening, compliance is critical. Often, candidates will put information online containing information that cannot be used to make a hiring decision, such as age, gender or religion. It is critical to work with legal counsel to outline a social media screening policy to help establish a social media screening process in your background screening policy.
cFIRST Think Tank is the team that researches and produces content for cFirst. This team comprises of seasoned content and digital design professionals and background screening industry veterans. Together we produce insightful blogs, infographics and reports meant for HR and background screening professionals.