The question is often posed whether or not it is an acceptable practice for an employer to carry out social media screenings of prospective employees during the recruitment process. There is no denying that social media is growing at an astronomical rate and has great impact on individuals and businesses alike. Employers are therefore tempted to turn to social networks to screen candidates before hiring them.
CareerBuilder’s 2016 social media recruitment survey revealed that 60 percent of employers use social networking sites to screen candidates.
Although there are no explicit law preventing the checking of social media profiles of job applicants, there are risks associated with using social media for recruitment purposes. On the positive side, the employer may discover something embarrassing or negative about the candidate which does not necessarily sit with the company’s ethos, hence the decision will follow not to invite the candidate for an interview. However, most job seekers are advised to maintain a positive online persona which means nothing in your screening may assist your recruitment notwithstanding that you have now exposed your business to the possibility of discovering information protected by equality legislation about the candidate, such as their race, religion, age, gender and possible disability.
The issue is that the candidate can claim that following the review of their profile, you have discriminated against them by holding back a job offer. Many employers will question how the candidate will become aware of their discreet search, but social sites such as LinkedIn inform their users of the visitors to their page, so your discreet search may not be so secret after all. Further, if the documentation acquired throughout the recruitment process simply does not align the eventual decision, the candidate may begin to pry, question and potentially even bring a claim.
In conducting a social media search, you may discover information about a candidate that could lead to inferences of discrimination, this is irrespective of the fact that you did not intend to discriminate.
Recording and relying on information gathered from social media may also fall foul of data protection legislation in the context of personal data being obtained and processed without consent.
Further, even if a single individual HR officer snoops, your business will bear the brunt of the backlash. The only relief may be if you can demonstrate efforts to take all available measures to prevent discrimination, supported by a policy underpinned by consistency and fairness.
You should also consider whether exploration of an employee's social media profile is in breach of your internal policies and procedures.
Businesses are therefore advised:
- To reserve social media screening until after the initial interview and assessments, and to verify any information obtained on social media sites after the hiring of a new employee.
- Not to add candidates to their social media platforms during the recruitment process.
- That where a candidate persists in a behaviour which is in breach of the company policy after a job offer has been made, adequate steps can be taken during their probationary period to discipline or terminate the employment in line with the business’ policies and procedures.
- Where you are looking to withdraw an offer based on the above behaviour prior to a candidate starting employment, obtain legal advice before you make any such decision.
- To only use social media searching as a means to acquire specific information relevant to a specific role, only as a last resort, rather than generally deep net trawling as a matter of routine.
- To disclose at the outset of the recruitment process that social media searches will be conducted.
- To demonstrate consistency. If you are seeking to acquire the background of one candidate, acquire the background of all candidates in a similar fashion.