Should I Conduct Social Media Background Checks on Candidates?

Last updated on October 30th, 2017 at 04:22 pm

A recent report from the ONS annual survey of British Internet Habits shows that for the first time over half of over-16s are regularly accessing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In the 16-24 group, 91% of Briton’s have accessed Facebook or Twitter in 2011.

With so much of our public information online, it is is now easy for anyone to play amateur detective. You can visit sites like Facebook, Twitter and even linked-in (although less then 1 in 5 Britons are using this), and pry into the background, behaviour, activities and attitudes of friends, acquaintances and even strangers.

Even employers are now using social networks to research and monitor the activities of their employees and potential employees. However, the near industrialization of personal backgrounding checking on social networks, poses many questions. For example:

  • ‘From an ethical standpoint, should you actually be doing this?
  • ‘Are there any legal ramifications of doing this?
  • As an employer do you place yourselves at any risk by researching into the background of employees?
  • Are there any limits to the research you can conduct?
  • Are their any restrictions of what you can do with any information that you find?

Employers should be aware that employment lawyers are increasingly beginning to frown on the practice. Alex Rickard, head of employee proposition law at Towry insists that the only fair way to use web checks during recruitment is to “warn candidates of your intention and give them the chance to clean up their online profile before you get started“. Research shows that up to 70% of US recruiters have rejected candidates based on information found during social media checks, so the practice is widespread.

Sarah Gordon, associate director of the Sammons Group, questions both the ethics and legality of social media background checking, stating that “I see the practice of social media vetting as akin to hiring a private detective to snoop on a candidate or perhaps paying someone to break into their home and rifle through their drawers. It isn’t fair, it shouldn’t be necessary and in my view, it’s a trend that reputable employers should steer well clear of,”

The University of Kentucky was forced to make a $125,000 out of court settlement after rejecting a candidate for a position that he was an excellent fit for, because they had found that he had espoused creationist views online.

Sarah Beeby, senior associate at law firm SNR Denton, recommends that employers should heed this warning, and goes on to state that if a you withdraw an offer after online vetting, there is real potential for a candidate to claim damages or compensation.

And finally, ACAS recently launched their social media guide for employers and they too warn against the practice of social media background checking. They believe that candidates who use social media background checking as part of their hiring process will be at risk of charges of discrimination as they will have access to information such as ‘sexual orientation, ethnicity to religion, age and political views, which will make it easier for rejected candidates to claim that they have been discriminated against.

I believe that there is genuine legal risk to employers who do social media background checks and I wonder how ethical it is to search into a person’s background without their knowledge – it feels a lot like snooping. Another issue is accuracy; how does an employer know that the information that they are acting on is accurate or a correct representation of the situation? So, while it is tempting to conduct social media background checks on new hires, I suggest you tread with caution.

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