Social Media Checks: What’s the latest?

A candidate comes across your desk and for most employers (approximately 60% according to Career Builder) it’s a natural next step to do a quick social media search. Maybe a look at their Facebook page.. or Twitter account… and then YouTube. Before you know it, you’re looking 54 weeks back on their Instagram!  What if you find something negative? What about if it’s positive?  Should the information be used and more importantly, can it be used?  These are all good questions and all still a grey area of pre-employment screening. However, it is a question that is gaining more attention.

Some 49% of employers who searched through candidate’s social media profiles found information that ultimately deterred them from hiring an applicant. It could have been an unfavorable picture or video, insight into their habits or derogatory posts that don’t align with the company’s values. Most employers that engage in social media checking their candidates are not necessarily looking for negative information but are simply looking to get a holistic view of the person potentially joining their company.  Nevertheless, by doing so, it opens the door to risks and liability as well.

One potential risk is that social media checks can expose the employer to information that may be unlawful criteria to consider in hiring, such as an applicant’s demographic information (age, race, religion, etc.).

On the opposing side, employers are looking to protect themselves against potentially negligent hires.  Some argue that by not researching social media sites before employment, they run the risk of hiring an applicant who could potentially endanger the work environment and other employees.  The mass shooting in California last December created more attention to the topic after it was reported the shooter had comparable information that was publicly available via social media platform(s) that was not exposed through their visa background check.

Another concern amongst employers advocating for social media checks is the potential misrepresentation and derogatory talk about the company’s brand. Some employers would like to see if a candidate has a history of bashing previous employers online or sharing too much information about their employers on social media. In a recent case, Chipotle fired an employee after the employee’s social media post about wages went viral.  The employee began circulating a petition regarding working conditions, ultimately violating the company’s social media policy.  Later that year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) deemed that Chipotle’s policy was too severe and was found to be illegal. In this specific case, the NLRB ordered Chipotle to offer the employee their job back along with lost wages.

The issue of social media checks and the hiring process will continue to gain attention. While there is more to come on this topic, it is important to note that if social media checking is part of your background checking process, that you are following Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) guidelines; and that your company has a sound and legal policy in place to do such screenings.