“Legal experts have one main thing to say to employers considering using social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram as an initial job-candidate screening tool: Don’t do it.

According to a recent survey from Careerbuilder, more employers are turning to social networking sites to find information on potential candidates. And, CareerBuilder reports, 51 percent of employers who research job candidates on social media say they’ve found content that led them to not hire the candidate, up from 43 percent last year and 34 percent in 2012.”

Source: Human Resource Executive Online

We ran across this gem while researching content for this week’s posts on social media screening. These paragraphs really capture what is happening in the risky business that is vetting talent through the web. We’ve explained why this practice is wrong, now we’re gonna help you build a policy that’ll keep you on the right side of the law.

Outsource Your Screening Needs – A reputable background check company like Active Screening helps shields you from any grievances related to discrimination, FCRA violations or any other compliance issues. We’re not just plugging ourselves because we’re really good at what we do (although we are, with a 97% customer retention rate), we’re reminding you about the protection we offer. If you don’t have a qualified and trained human resources or hiring professional on staff, it’s a wise investment to hire us for your background screening needs.

Develop a Written Hiring Policy – If you don’t already have one, get one. This downloadable document from The Chartered Institute of Professional Development is a great place to start. If it doesn’t already do so, this policy needs to incorporate social media into its information gathering. We know a lot of companies knowingly peruse applicants’ social media profiles but they may also unknowingly use the information they find to discriminate against protected classes. A recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University investigated how widespread this practice is and who it mostly affects. Among their comparisons were gay candidates to straight candidates and Muslim candidates to Christian candidates. The results may or may not surprise you.

Make Sure EVERYONE Knows the Policy and Follows It – It’s great that Dorreen from accounting is best friends with Joshua in HR. What’s not great is that every time the duo sits down for lunch, Dorreen spills the beans about what she found out about Josh’s latest job candidate from spying on his or her online profiles, like:

*Mary is a single mom who’s pregnant again.
*A decade ago, Dan left the workforce for a year to go to rehab.
*Stephen posts boozy party pics almost every weekend
*Renata is considering converting to Judaism

If Josh had been following your written hiring policy, he may not know these things at this point, but he does now and it’s hard to stop him from allowing these little tidbits to influence his decision making. You can’t unlearn things. That can be shaky ground to stand on if a legal battle ensues. Your best bet is to make sure EVERYONE in your company knows your hiring policies and, to the best of your knowledge, is following them.

Get Written Permission – A smart way to protect yourself to some degree, however, is to have all candidates give written permission to have their social media profiles screened, just like you’d have them do for a regular background check which adheres to FCRA law. This allows your company to freely conduct an internet background check on an applicant which might turn up something that a reputation-scrubbing agency tried to bury. You need to adhere, though, to any privacy settings the applicant has enacted on their social media accounts. If you try to hack their accounts, you’re risking your company’s reputation as a fair and respectable place to work.

If You Choose to Screen Social Media, You Need to Treat Everyone Equally – Just because someone claims not to have a Facebook page, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for one, and if your screening policy states that you will look at three social media sites (usually Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) for every candidate, you MUST do it. If you find something questionable on an applicants Twitter account and then don’t look at the other two accounts, but you look at all three for other applicants, that can be viewed as unfair at best and discriminatory at best.

Don’t Make an Offer then Rescind Based on a Social Media Check – Just don’t. If an applicant finds out you did this, it can be argued that’s the reason he/she wasn’t hired and it wasn’t disclosed. Your best bet is to follow FCRA regulations and to treat the information as an Adverse Action.

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