Should You Include Social Media in Background Checks?

SVP of Marketing & Strategic Alliances

The short answer: Yes, but proceed with caution. In a 2020 survey by The Harris Poll, 70% of employers who responded said they believe every company should screen candidates' social media profiles during the hiring process and 78% of employers believe that current employees should maintain a work-appropriate social media profile.

However, basing hiring decisions on applicants’ social media profiles can fall into “protected class'' territory. If recruiters and hiring managers are viewing candidates’ social media profiles and making hiring decisions based on what they find, it is possible that they could put their company at risk for discrimination claims. Race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability, age, and citizenship status are all protected characteristics. If a candidate feels he or she was not hired because of one of these traits, that person can sue for discrimination.

While social media searches can be valuable due-diligence tools and a critical part of pre-employment background screening, the information found online can carry legal risks and may not be accurate. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) recommends that employers do two things: Partner with an accredited screening vendor and create a social media screening policy, ensuring that candidates are aware that social media is included in the background check process.

Related: Cisive Product Highlight: Social Media Screening 

Creating a Social Media Screening Policy

According to SHRM, organizations should develop a social media screening policy demonstrating that legal and consistent practices are used. Employers must always base hiring decisions on information that is nondiscriminatory and a valid predictor of job performance, and the social media screening policy should take care to reflect that.

Your social media screening policy should include the following information and be provided to the candidate during the hiring process:

  • When screening will occur and by whom the screening will be conducted. This should include whether or not a one-time screening or continuous monitoring of social media will be conducted.
  • Written consent from the applicant to review their social media that complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
  • Specifics about what will be reviewed. It’s important to only review public information and never ask for a candidate’s password.
  • Who will receive the information obtained from social media screening. Best practices include only reporting job-related information to the hiring manager.

Additionally, if your human resources department is conducting the screening, it is crucial that they understand not only the federal laws governing privacy around social media, but state and local laws that may impact what you can and cannot review. For example, it is illegal in many states for an employer to ask a candidate or employee to disclose their social media account login credentials for screening or monitoring purposes.

The findings should be documented, especially if concerning content is discovered, in order to protect against discrimination allegations. The findings of social media screening should be provided only to the departments or persons detailed in your organization's screening policy (likely the hiring manager and HR), and the reports should focus on job-related results only.

Because social media background checks involve learning about a candidate’s personal life, they come with multiple privacy and ethical concerns. This is why most employers prefer to use a vendor partner – usually the same one they use for criminal record and credit report checks – so that an ethical third party can ensure your hiring managers only receive information that is legal and vetted.

For example, Cisive offers a Social Media Background Check as a service for employers who wish to screen their current or potential employees across multiple social media platforms for adverse information. This is done by using a combination of technology and three layers of expert human analysts to correctly identify a candidate’s online presence on publicly available platforms. Through this service, Cisive provides information relevant to an employer’s business, while redacting “protected class” information.

Contact our parent company Cisive to develop a social media screening program that will help your organization identify applicant or employee red flags, while supporting compliance with federal and state guidelines.