Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Apr 06, 2012

There’s a right way and wrong way to review applicants’ Facebook pages

Hiring 
Recent news articles about job applicants being asked to give their Facebook user names and passwords to HR for background screening have sparked a public outcry.

Recent news articles about job applicants being asked to give their Facebook user names and passwords to HR for background screening have sparked a public outcry. Two senators have called for a federal investigation, and Facebook itself has stated that the practice violates privacy expectations of its users and their friends.

 

Reviewing applicants’ social media pages can be useful, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Here’s what we recommend:

 

  • Determine the purpose of such a review, because it could affect what sources you check and when. If your purpose is to look for inconsistencies in the resume you received, then you should review professional-history sites such as LinkedIn before an interview. If your purpose is to look for behavioral red flags, then a designated background screener should look at personal sites such as Facebook during the reference/background check stage of your hiring process.
  • If you use Facebook or other personal sites as part of your reference/background check, make sure the person who reviews those sites isn’t the individual making the hiring decision. Train the individual to only report job-related concerns. This ensures that the decision cannot be tainted, even inadvertently, by the decision-maker learning about a protected status such as family medical history.
  • Instead of requiring applicants to supply their passwords or log onto Facebook through a company computer, a less intrusive approach is for you to require them to temporarily accept a “friend” request from the designated individual who does your background screening. You should specify the length of time that you need for the screening process (e.g., one week), and tell the applicant they are free to unfriend your background screener after the specified period.

If you’re unsure what types of information you’re allowed to take into account when making your hiring decision, talk with your Vigilant staff representative, or see our Legal Guide, “Look for Red Flags in the Hiring Process” (994).

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