Hiring is still on the rise, but the pool of applicants continues to become smaller and smaller as the unemployment rate dips. As you seek to find the best employees, it's understandable that you may choose to peruse the social media profiles of a few promising applicants who seem to good to be true. But what do you do when you see deplorable pictures on their Facebook page, or affiliations with unseemly groups? Can you then choose not to interview them? You can, but not without risk. Social media screening is fairly common among employers; however, it carries risk with every click.
Social media screening in the hiring process
Almost one-third of businesses report using social media screening as part of the hiring process, but we suspect the actual number may be higher. In many cases, this is a legitimate choice after the interview. If you search for an applicant on social media sites such as Facebook before the interview, it may create bias in your mind, or the mind of the hiring manager, based on their affiliation with certain protected groups (e.g., ethnicity, sexual preference, religion). That bias is illegal and will create a liability in court.
Additionally, certain states have moved to protect off-duty activities from employer bias. So, if you refuse to hire someone based on a social media post, no matter how horrifying it is, you may be violating the employment laws in your state.
What's the best social media screening policy?
There are a few dos and don'ts we'd recommend if you choose to incorporate social media screening into your hiring process, based on a recent article from SHRM.
- Let HR conduct the search. They have the hiring process and your liability in mind rather than the personal interests of the next team member.
- Wait until after the interview. You'll know many of their affiliations from the interview and will not be in danger of bias.
- Screen every applicant equally. Do not "take a closer look" at someone because of their name, age, or stated interests. Again, you're creating bias and asking for trouble.
- Ask for passwords. This is a legally protected privacy right for employees. Don't violate it or you've created a legal hazard.
- Look at posts from others for information. Anyone can post anywhere. Focus on the content from the applicant for the most fair approach.
- Keep information between your ears. Document everything and every decision you make--even printing out pages of the social media profiles that contribute to your decisions.