Social Media Background Screening Trends for HR

Social Media Background Screening Trends for HR
Marketing Specialist

A potential employer’s use of social media and online profiles as part of their background screening process has brought major concerns for both applicants and HR professionals alike. Employers state that the most common reasons for not using public social media profiles to screen job candidates are legal risks, relevancy and accuracy of information, and privacy concerns.

However, a recent survey released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states that 43 percent of organizations used social media or online search engines to screen job candidates in 2015, an increase by 21 percent from 2011—and 44 percent of HR professionals agreed that a public social media profile could provide additional pertinent information about work-related potential or performance.

Today, LinkedIn and Facebook remain the top social media sites used to screen job candidates, 93% and 63%, respectively. As this practice gains prevalence, employers are advised to be careful with the information they stumble upon, due to the lack of definitive regulation or statute regarding privacy.

With the increasing risk of uncovering prohibited information and improperly using social media information, employers should take a few precautions to perform legal, yet helpful, social media background screening—because according to Roy Maurer, Talent Acquisition Editor at SHRM, social media background checks are coming under scrutiny.

Assess Legal Risks

There are several reasons why some employers may consider social media background screening as a bad practice. One may argue that it’s an invasion of privacy since it may reveal protected class information (e.g., age, race, gender, religious affiliation), while the other may reason that it’s maintaining due diligence by evaluating a candidate’s fit into the company’s culture or gaining greater insight into their professional abilities.

However, there’s no way for a potential employer to un-see the information they’ve uncovered; more importantly, it’s difficult for them to demonstrate they did not use the prohibited information in the hiring process. Therefore, the American Bar Association recommends including an unbiased third-party to conduct the social media searches—which may ­possibly subject the organization to adhere to federal FCRA laws. A third-party will go back and search for items the employer deems relevant for identifying good candidates such as unlawful acts, discriminatory activity, salacious material and other concerning items.

Moreover, Jonathan A. Segal, partner at Duane Morris LLP, recommends modeling ‘ban-the-box’ laws and ordinances at the state and local level. “They don’t ban employers from asking about criminal convictions,” Segal says. Instead, they “require that employers wait to do so, at least until after a conditional offer has been extended.”

Develop a Screening Policy

If a potential employer decides to use social media to screen applicants, it is critical that the organization documents its process and establishes a comprehensive policy that outlines the use of the exposed information. According to the SHRM survey, 21 percent of employers who currently don’t have a written social media policy in place plan to do so within the next year. When drafting a policy, Sara H. Jodka, attorney at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, recommends the following:

1. Build a firewall or information barrier between the researcher and decision maker. If the decision maker doesn’t know an applicant’s protected class information, it’s impossible to consider those characteristics in the decision-making process to discriminate against the applicant.

2. Identify websites that will be searched and for what. Employers should identify which social media sites will be reviewed during the research process and what criteria will be considered in the hiring process. The only caveat here is that employers should ensure the items screened correlate with the candidate’s fitness for the job.

Allow Candidates to Explain Concerning Information

While employers are not required to obtain a candidate’s permission to review their online profiles, it is a best practice to give them a “heads up” that you’ll be considering any and all of their “publicly posted social media accounts,” says contributor Melanie Berkowitz, Esq.

In the event you come across information that may hinder an applicant’s chances of receiving an offer, provide them the opportunity to explain before making any conclusions. SHRM’s survey reveals that, overall, 36 percent of organizations have disqualified a job candidate in 2015 based on the questionable content discovered on their social media profile or online search engines.  

There’s no doubt that social media has altered the way business works and how hiring decisions are made. Employers are often wary about the legal risks associated with the growing trend and find themselves at unique crossroads of leveraging the tool for identifying and recruiting future employees. For those organizations using, or considering using, social media as part of their background screening process, I hope these best practices help you maintain compliance and remain aligned to your organization’s goals and objectives. 

PreCheck Background Screening Resource Kit