Social media background checks are becoming common place. According to current studies just about half of all employers perform some form of social media recruiting to screen job applicants.
Potential employers are also seeking to obtain disclosure of passwords, user ids and other access to social media accounts from career seekers and employees. Fortunately, state and federal authorities are mobilizing efforts to restrict this practice.
The explosion in social media with it's interactive, instantaneous and worldwide access makes it a useful tool. However, it also can be a dangerous weapon when used improperly or recklessly.
In my Basic Employee Rights trainings and seminars I constantly caution job seekers and employees to be very discreet about what they share on social networks.
Quite frankly, I believe social media should be used for what it was initially created to be...SOCIAL. Nonetheless, the versatility of social media for use in virtually every aspect of life also includes the workplace. Twitter and FaceBook comments can and do affect the potential for career seekers to get a job. Here's is the best advice I can give any job applicant...DON'T SAY ANYTHING ONLINE YOU WOULDN'T WANT A POTENTIAL BOSS TO SEE!
Employers are creating specific positions called social recruiters within their organizations to do background checks of potential candidates for hire. What can your employer find out about you online? I tell many career seekers and employees to do the following. Go to the major search engine browsers Google, Yahoo and Bing and type your full name. Do this both with and without quotes. They are astounded by the amount of professional and personal info that shows up, Guess what? So will you!
Oh by the way, your boss or potential boss can also see this same record of your life. When I do an exact match search on my name in Google I see a significant amount of information about myself. Curiously, employers are discouraged from using social media to "willy nilly" screen job applicants. Facebook, Twitter and now Pinterest have become huge reservoirs of all kinds of information that paints a picture of an individual.
Obvious things like gender is easily discovered. However, other information such as age, race, pregnancy, disabilities, religion and national origin have become readily available through the social media platform.
That's why employment experts especially attorneys representing businesses and organizations advise them to be careful when utilizing social media in pre hiring backgrounds screenings. All the aforementioned characteristics are also protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights. This information can't be used as a basis for a hiring or non hiring decision.
The use of social media can also distort the truth. For example, an employer could see a picture of you walking with a cane on a social media account. A potential boss could view that as a disability and allow that to influence an illegal hiring decision. You could simply have sprained an ankle, which is a temporary condition.
Social media background checks may uncover all sorts of medical information the potential employer is not entitled to. I always admonish employees and job seekers to be extremely discreet about the personal and professional info they share through social media. It can and will come back to bite you! In the face to face interview both the employer and applicant have a degree of control.
Once on the internet that all changes. There are advantages and risks to both sides. Along with wanting to screen applicants employers use social media search to determine;
When to search?
Who should do the search?
What data the employer is looking for?
Is the info relevant to the position?
How the applicant uses social media?
Companies are advised to perform social media background checks after an interview and before a job offer. They are also being told to make the offer dependent on the results of the social media search. Job applicants and employees need to be aware that employers should get their consent before conducting the social media information search. If they don't and you are not hired or promoted it could lead to issues of discrimination and other employee rights violations.
Employment lawyers representing businesses recommend your boss always hire a third party to conduct social media background checks. If done in-house it should be HR or other non decision maker and not the interviewer or hiring manager. Quite frankly, I would be leery of any in-house individual or department doing any type of background search being unbiased. Legal experts believe employers potentially facing liability for the following.....
Criminal background check laws
Away from work conduct
Potential First amendment Issues
Negligent hiring considerations
....can be greatly diminished by carefully developing a social media background search strategy and checklist. The following is an example of what your employer's social media background audit may look like. Let's say the info on an applicant is from a popular social media site;
Job: Executive Assistant
Interests: shuffleboard tournaments
Likes: Joanie my life partner
Dislikes: Subway travel without my .22 pistol
Important accomplishments: Overcoming my ADHD
Best characteristic: My devotion to Buddha
What info from this list should be reported to your potential employer from the hired third party? Well a well trained third party social intelligence corporation knows ONLY the .22 pistol information is relevant to report. Why? because some of the other info deals with legally protected classes. (Civil Rights Act Title VII of 1964)
When posting on social media sites you may inadvertently reveal character issues such as;
intolerance for the views of others
bias or discriminatory tendencies
"true" training or experience versus resume representation
poor communication, grammar, writing skills
Any or all of these things could influence a social recruiter to disqualify you for that coveted position.
As I mentioned earlier employers want to use social media more for vetting candidates for employment. However, it's like a tug of war in the benefits versus the potential for disaster. Legal advisors for corporations provide several reasons for an employer to go slow when using a background check in social media....
Labor Union issues
The right to exercise the use of protected activity in using social media sites is a priority for unions.
(FCRA) The Fair Credit Reporting Act
This law protects career seekers and employees if the employer hires a third party
Businesses and organizations using social media which unearth info on employees or job applicants protected under Title VII create a potential legal minefield for themselves. If potential employees don't get hired and can show the employer obtained info about them from Facebook or social site, discrimination is easier to prove. That's why many use the layer of protection from being sued by contracting a background screening company to do online screening.
Here's a scenario;
Lindsey Loquacious has maintained several social media accounts for a couple of years. She has hundreds of friends and followers on those sites. Lindsey has over that period of time shared.......
the need to get her diabetes under control
why she believes her political party is the best
her great grandfather, grandfather and father all died from heart disease
she is an active union representative
info about her mormon mission adventures
how much she is looking forward to the birth of her child in six months
Now how will Lindsey react when she realizes her present boss or potential employer has access to a two year personal and professional history of online social sharing?
Another consideration for career seekers is the U.S. government has officially approved "social media fingerprinting". A business called Social Intelligence Corporation now runs social media background checks on job applicants for employers. This company has the access to a range of content on social sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and others.
It can do a limited search of social media activity over a seven year period. The information gathered has to comply with FCRA guidelines. Their website says this, "....facilitate better hiring decisions, identify insurance fraud, and reduce overall operational risks. Social Intelligence provides powerful tools to employers to mitigate workplace risks, to insurers and claims specialists to reduce fraud, and to many other organizations to benefit from the valuable information that can be attained through social media research.
Social Intelligence adheres to the guidelines of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and is complaint with Federal and State law to ensure that both individuals and organizations are protected." The company maintains it provides reports for employers that contain positive and negative info. Employers receive data involving negative things like drug use, terrorist or racist activities, sexually explicit type videos or photos.
Positive activities reported to companies include community contributions or charitable accomplishments, positive employment experiences, etc.
Under FCRA regulations potential employers MUST get the job applicants consent before doing a social network. This gives a layer of protection for the job seeker because it means the third party company can't randomly search without your agreement or knowledge. Nonetheless, many employers are performing some "hybrid" social network checks anyway. With the added pressure to adhere to FTC guidelines businesses and organizations are mindful of the consequences if the abuse or misuse online background data.
Given the very nature of how social media in business is evolving it was inevitable for social background recruiting to emerge as an industry. I believe as time goes on the services of companies like Social Intelligence Corp. will become an integral part of the hiring process. These companies will have greater responsibility for ensuring compliance with the rights of employees.
The following are some of the other areas that social media background screening companies will help shield employers from potential legal entanglements.
Privacy Law issues
employers have already gotten a taste of the problems in asking job applicants and employees for social media user ids, passwords, etc. The general attitude is to stay away from trying to get info that couldn't be asked for by an in person job interview.
In the course of designing an executing a social media recruiting search a potential employer may give the impression of a contract instead of "At Will" employment.
A job candidate writes on Facebook page "I don't trust anyone over forty". She gets hired as a supervisor and then discriminates against a fifty year old co-worker by giving a promotion to a far less qualified 23 year old male.
State Criminal Background Check Laws
Employers have to respect different state laws regarding criminal checks even through social media.
Non Business Behavior
Like criminal background checks, states have various guidelines prohibiting employment decisions affected by how a job applicant or employee conducts themselves away from the job.
Sate law may affect how employers use social media background checks in connection with freedom of speech.
When an employer is interested in a job candidate they will contact the social media monitoring company. The information the employer gives the social reputation management firm will basically be your name and email address. The company will then do a search on the job seeker or employees social fingerprint by conducting a search on the major social networks.
Here's what a typical report from a social media background check company on a job applicant to an employer may contain.
--Resume discrepancies - degrees, training, job history, etc.
--Evidence of illegal drug use
--Negative comments about former employers
--Amount of on the job social media activity
Remember anything you put on social media site provides a profile of who the potential employer perceives you to be. Increasingly this will become the "first impression" the employer gets about you. Of course who you really are versus what a social media snapshot portrays you to be can be different as night and day.
The bottom line is this...don't put anything on a social media site you would not want a potential employer to see!
Click this link to find out why Social Media Background Checks