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How to (Legally) Screen Candidates on Social Media

How to legally screen candidates on social media

Should employers use social media to screen a candidate? The answer is a bit of a gray area. While it’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to review an applicant’s social profiles during the screening process, it can also lead to legal issues if you’re not careful.

There are two important reasons why businesses should tread carefully when it comes to screening a candidate on social media:

  1. It could provide information that is inaccurate or misleading and lead to a poor hiring decision;
  2. Social media sites almost always contain information that employers cannot legally consider when making hiring decisions. For instance, race, age, sexual orientation, etc.

If you make a hiring decision based on the information found on a candidate’s social profiles, you may end up either missing out on a perfectly capable candidate, or setting your company up for a potential discrimination claim.

[RELATED ARTICLE: How to Decide Between Two Qualified Candidates]

So should you use social media to look up job applicants? Clearly the answer is a bit of a gray area and one that must be carefully considered.

Best practices for screening candidates on social media

As you assess the risks and develop a strategy with your HR and legal representatives, take a look below for a few best practices to get you headed in the right direction.

Create a social media screening policy 

If you have determined that a social media search will be conducted as part of your hiring process, it’s important to develop a policy addressing the specifics of this process. The policy should include:

  • What positions will be included in the search;
  • The scope of the search;
  • When the search will occur and;
  • Which information will not be looked at and considered/reported.

All hiring managers in the company should have a copy of this policy and a full understanding of its purpose. Additionally, if your policy dictates a social media screening, a good practice is to disclose your screening plans to the candidate. Some companies even ask candidates to sign an authorization before conducting their search.

Prohibit decision makers from screening profiles

 A good rule of thumb is to never let a decision-maker handle the social media check. Hire a third party or enlist the help of an in-house employee who won’t be making the hiring decision. This individual should report only relevant, non-protected information to the decision-maker. Keep in mind that the person who conducts the check must understand what is and isn’t relevant and what information is legally prohibited from using when making a hiring decision.

Never ask for social media passwords

As a best practice in social media screening, employers should refrain from asking a candidate for their passwords. Doing so could put you in risk of violating the federal Stored Communications Act. Plus, many states have legislation that prohibits employers from not only asking for social media passwords, but also requiring employees to bring up their social media profiles, change their privacy settings, or connect with specific contacts (Source).

Social media is still considered a relatively new topic for hiring managers, yet it’s clear that using it as a method for screening candidates can be risky. Taking the time to fully understand these legal risks and working with your lawyers and HR team to develop a company policy on the matter is imperative.

If you have questions about using social media to screen candidates, contact one of our knowledgeable HR Consultants at (808) 791-4900 or click here.


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