The internet provides many sources to dig up dirt on candidates who want a job with your company. With the popularity of social networks – and most people’s failure to alter privacy settings – you can sometimes find information you may never learn from an application or interview. Relying on the internet as an employee screening method, however, is not without its dangers and drawbacks.
Is It Legal?
As of January 2012, there were no court cases related to an employer using the internet as a means of employee background screening. A prospective employee, however, may consider an internet search to be an invasion of privacy. Social media sites could let an employer learn about current or past behaviors they might find questionable, but that have no bearing on the applicant’s ability to do the job. In some states, it is against the law to use a candidate’s off-duty, private behavior to make an employment decision.
While the legality of using the internet as an employee screening method is still a gray area, there are ethical dilemmas related to using pretexts to gain information about an individual online. Pretexting is the act of creating a false identity so you can gain access to private information a candidate may only share with certain people.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is unlawful to base a hiring decision on a candidate’s gender, race, nationality, heritage, religion, age, marital status, status of pregnancy, medical condition or sexual orientation. You are only supposed to base your decision to hire an individual based on their ability to perform the duties necessary. When you conduct employee background screening on the internet, you run the risk of learning too much information that could sway your decision to hire an individual.
Also, if a candidate learns that a company performs employee screenings through basic internet searches and does not get the job, they could try to argue that it was the reason they did not receive the position.
Handling the So-Called Truth
Using information from the internet, particularly social media sites, can be a problematic employee screening method because it may not reveal the candidate’s true personality and ability to perform the functions of a job. It is also difficult to know if what you see posted online is true. With so many people on these social media sites you cannot guarantee that the person you are looking at is the same one that is applying for the position.
Before taking employee background screening into your own hands, talk with your company’s lawyer so you can develop a written policy about hiring procedures and how the company plans to use information learned about a candidate through the internet. For the best legal protection, however, it is best to post on a job announcement that the company does use the internet as a means to learn more about a candidate. Then, look at personal information (such as that found on social networks) only after obtaining written consent from the individual. Regardless of the employment practice your company chooses, it is wise to put it in writing and make it accessible to your current and prospective employees.