With so much personal information in the public realm, it’s no wonder that businesses often make use of this resource for recruitment purposes. However, due to the way in which social media blurs the line between the personal and professional, there are both ethical and legal questions regarding the way in which social media background checks are carried out.
Here, we give you a quick run through of background check basics.
Why use social media background checks?
Recruiters will often look through a candidate’s profiles in order to establish whether there are any discrepancies in the work history they’ve been provided, as well as to ensure that the individual has not behaved in a way that could damage the employer’s reputation.
The legal risks inherent in social networking screening
The biggest concern for employers screening candidates in this way is that they could be accused of making recruitment decisions based on ‘protected characteristics.’
These protected characteristics include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. To base a recruitment decision on any of these characteristics is to break the law.
Having viewed a candidate’s social media profile, it’s difficult to prove that none of these characteristics have consciously or unconsciously influenced the outcome of the application.
How do recruiters tread the line?
Recruiters can take two basic steps to ensure that they stay the right side of the law and that they aren’t accused of using social media checks in an unfair, irresponsible, or illegal manner.
Utilise a third party to perform social media screening.
A growing number of recruiters are utilising digital screening specialists to ensure that only relevant (and legal) personal information is taken into account when making a hiring decision.
The third party ensures that all protected data categories are omitted from the report, safeguarding the recruiter from claims that they have consciously or unconsciously made a decision based on protected personal characteristics.
Create a clear screening policy.
Whether screening is being carried out in-house or by a third party, it’s important to create a comprehensive written policy dealing with how the process should be carried out and how compliance can be ensured. This policy should be developed with the assistance of Employment Law specialists and organisations may also want to consult their employees, too.
Social media background checks are problematic for a number of reasons. As a general rule, organisations should ensure that such checks, if used at all, are not carried out until the end of the recruitment process. Even then, they should be careful that information gleaned from social media profiles is not a determining factor in the success of an application.
That being said, the only ways a business can definitively stay the right side of the law is to contract a third party to conduct the checks, to create a legally airtight background check policy, or not to use social media screening at all.