Many employers are using social media as a quick and inexpensive applicant-screening tool. While social media platforms can indeed be a useful aid for employers looking to screen job candidates, employers must be cautious to avoid discriminatory practices and exposure to litigation.
Some Background on Anti-Discrimination Law
Federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination in employment (including recruitment, selection, and hiring) on the basis of protected class status, such as race, national origin, sex, religion, age, or disability. Employers are not permitted to use information about a job candidate's protected class status in making employment decisions, but employers using social media as a screening tool may inadvertently be exposed to this information. Improper use of this information or denial of employment may be viewed as discriminatory, so employers should use caution.
Best Practices for Using Social Media to Screen Candidates
Here are five best practices for employers using social media in the recruitment and selection process:
- Use a third party to filter out protected class information and focus on valid predictors of job performance.
- Information on social media sites may be inaccurate or exaggerated. Be aware of this and act accordingly.
- Do not "friend" an applicant or request an individual's social media password to gain additional access. Some states have passed specific regulations barring employers from requesting login information to an applicant's personal accounts, requesting that privacy settings be reduced, or requesting that an applicant add a connection associated with the employer.
- Limit social media screening to professional sites such as LinkedIn, which focuses on an individual's professional background and qualifications.
- Consult with employment law counsel if an adverse employment-related decision is based on a review of social media.
If an employer is unsure whether their social media screening practices are compliant, it’s best to be safe and consult an expert, rather than risk a lawsuit. Human resource professionals and legal counsel can both be valuable resources in the screening process.