Social Media Is A Tool, Not A Weapon
Social media is a great tool for doing all sorts of things that once took a whole lot more effort, time and resources. The latest idea is to use social media to conduct background checks on potential employees.
This is a great idea on the surface, but just as in the brick and mortar world, it requires caution.
Social media is like a hammer. You can use it to build a house or you can use to tear a house down.
The most important rule to remember when using social media for anything–from marketing your brand to vetting a potential new hire–the same laws apply online as they do in the real world. Specifically, the laws protecting an individuals right to privacy.
First, be certain you advise the new hire you will be conducting a social media background check, and let them know which company will doing the work. You can ask them for their social media log-in information, but you can’t force them. And remember, since they are not yet employees, the rules you have in the employee handbook about social media don’t yet apply to them.
More and more these days, however, employers are taking the practice one step further by asking applicants for their Facebook logins as part of the screening process. As recently as two years ago, the city of Bozeman, Mont., required job applicants to supply username and password information for their social media-related accounts. In this instance, public outrage quickly curtailed that policy.
While it’s not illegal to ask job applicants for access to their password-protected accounts — the day will come, I suspect, when a jobseeker sues a prospective employer for violating the Stored Communications Act. That law limits the compelled disclosure of stored wire and electronic communications and transactional records held by Internet-related service providers such as Facebook and Google.
If you’re not already cringing in your chair or your company is considering the use of social media when vetting job applicants, here are do’s and don’ts to be aware of:
Do have someone other than the ultimate decision-maker conduct the background check, says Eric B. Myers, a partner in the Labor and Employment Group at Dilworth Paxson, LLP, and the author of The Employer Handbook Blog. He points out that if someone other than the hiring manager does the background check, the company may be able to insulate itself against claims of discrimination. Myers also suggests that if, for instance, a Facebook photo shows the applicant smoking marijuana, the background checker could mark “no” on a non-specific checklist that asks, “uses good judgment,” as doing so is less specific than jotting down “the applicant smokes dope,” which may in fact not even turn out to be true.
Do let applicants know that you’re going to be checking their social-media profiles — and it doesn’t hurt to mention it in your advertisement for the job opening.
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