Using Social Media to Screen Employees: Are There Legal Risks?

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With the dramatic increase in the number of unemployed workers during the past few years, it has become more important than ever for companies to make solid, well thought out hiring decisions. The rise of social networking on the Internet has made it easier than ever for companies to investigate the backgrounds and personal lives of their potential employees.

But how far is too far when it comes to researching a potential employee on the Web?

For decades, employee hiring decisions were made primarily on the basis of rèsumès, applications, the interview process, references, education, and, in more recent years, drug tests.

Even though people have been putting their personal information on to the Internet for more than 15 years now, it’s only been the recent rise of social media websites that have resulted in businesses using the Web as an increasingly important tool in their hiring arsenal.

While sites such as LinkedIn were created expressly for the purpose of sharing business-related information between friends, co-workers and associates, other sites such as Facebook have a decidedly more personal slant.

As is often the case with the breakneck speed of change in technology, the legal system is lagging years behind in establishing a new framework for what is legal vs. what is illegal when it comes to determining the line between personal privacy and an employer’s right to know.

Because companies are still operating in largely uncharted waters, it’s important for them to be aware of the potential risks involved with probing a potential employee’s information online.

Privacy Issues

Employers should proceed with great caution when it comes to tactics such as setting up fake friend requests, or setting up fake accounts in order to “spy” on applicants activities. It’s very possible that the courts may not view this as legitimate permission for the employer to review personal information

Discrimination Issues

An even bigger potential issue lies in using personal information gleaned from an applicant’s online information to potentially make illegal hiring decisions based upon items such as religion, race, sexual orientation, marital status or a number of other factors. In this particular case, ignorance is bliss – even from a legal standpoint.

While the rise in social media has provided companies with more potential information than ever before about the people they wish to hire, great caution must still be exercised in order to keep the employer on the right side of the law. Proceed with caution.

If you need help vetting candidates for your Washington Metro-area construction, engineering or architecture firm, call on RealStreet Staffing for help. We can help with your entire recruiting process, from placing job listing, to reviewing rèsumès, to conducting background checks and preliminary interviews. We look forward to hearing from you.

RealStreet has proven to be a trusted resource for me for critical facility staffing needs. They strive to understand client requirements and resource them fully with a minimum of contractual actions to enable the support. I am quite satisfied with their services and give my complete recommendation.

Colonel Stuart Harrison, PE, USA (ret)

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