Social media is a screening tool employers must use wisely.
Social media is a powerful communication tool that more employers are using as a means of vetting applicants prior to a hire. About four in 10 companies harnessed social media or online searches to screen job candidates in 2015, an increase from 33 percent in 2013, according to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Organizations that examine a job candidate's social media footprint are typically looking to gain or verify information. Networking websites, for example, often contain more information about an applicant than what's provided in a resume, cover letter or CV. In addition, vetting a job seeker's online activity is less expensive than other screening methods. LinkedIn and Facebook remain the top sites used for background checks, but professional and associates sites have grown in popularity when it comes to providing data about potential or performance.
As online employment screening evolves, new legal and regulatory hurdles are expected to catch up with the practice. Candidate privacy, online profile accuracy, and even potential discrimination claims for viewing a would-be hire's social media accounts are among the risks for companies to consider. Existing laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Stored Communications Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act may also protect workers against social media-related privacy violations.
In 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that scrutinizing social media could infringe upon Title VII, as online profiles reveal protected characteristics like race, sex and religion. The commission suggested applicant screenings be assigned to either a third party or an employee who doesn't make hiring decisions. The designated social media screener can then report relevant concerns to a hiring committee without disclosing an applicant's private information.
Some states have introduced legislation to prevent employers from requesting social media passwords from current or potential hires. Today, 25 states have these laws on the books. Regardless of the approach, it's critical for companies conducting social media screenings to create a comprehensive policy that outlines the specific use of potentially sensitive candidate data.
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