Who hasn’t snooped an old girlfriend’s Facebook page? Or checked out a former boss’ Twitter feed? Or kept tabs on a grad school rival through LinkedIn?

Chances are, we’re all guilty of social media nosiness. On most levels, this is harmless fun fueled by envy or lust or curiosity. But if you’re a boss, hiring manager, recruiter or other such person in charge of talent acquisition, you could be in a for a world of hurt if you get busted using social media as a hiring filter (even if it’s not your primary source of collecting information).

Why? Most social media profiles include information that could be considered discriminatory if you use it in a hiring decision. What type of information are we talking?

  • Race
  • Color
  • Gender
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Citizenship
  • Pregnancy
  • Age

Some states offer additional protection for:

  • Sexual Orientation
  • Weight
  • Marital Status

As Fast Company writes: “Because this information is often prominently displayed on social networking profiles, even the most cautious employer may find itself an unwitting defendant in a lawsuit.”

It’s crucial to your bottom line and your reputation that you don’t get caught in the social media trap. Here’s some tips so you can tow the social media screening line:

Make sure you have a standardized hiring procedure – We covered some tips in our post, Small Business Hiring Tips: Avoiding Discrimination. If you don’t feel like navigating over, here’s the gist:

  • Create or review a policy manual that clearly defines discrimination, discriminatory language, harassment and any state and federal laws that your employees need to know about. If you’ve taken actions as a business to implement more protections, outline them in the manual. You might also want to find a way to make sure your employees have actually read the manual (a quiz, a team building exercise, something). This is an absolute must for ANYONE involved with Human Resources.
  • Implement anti-discrimination training for anyone in management or anyone who is deemed a ‘decision-maker.’ Ideally, this training should be done in-house and completed before any promotions take root.
  • Consider hiring a background screening company like us for your hiring needs so you won’t, and can’t be found to, be responsible if something negative turns up in a social media search.

Incorporate social media into your standardized hiring policy (including how websites will be searched) – You’ll want to define several things. A) Which websites you screen, B) How they will be searched (NO snooping beyond people’s privacy settings), C) What information the screener will keep track of. It’s also imperative you keep a digital trail of your screenings and findings just as you would a paper trail during the application and interview process. You must teach your hiring pros to NEVER allow information which be viewed as discriminatory to influence their decisions. They should also be more than familiar with FCRA and its regulations. The guidelines provided by the Chartered Institute of Professional Development are top notch.

Recognize your reputation is at stake, too – Think it’s too hard to actually prove you crossed the line during your internet searches? In some cases that might be true, but even a hint of impropriety can cost you when it comes to recruiting and acquiring top talent. This Scientific American article references an NC State study where applicants who found out that prospective employers who had checked their web profiles were less likely to view the company’s hiring as fair, regardless if they were offered a position. Word often travels fast in these top talent circles, too, and since these Ladders usually have their pick of the litter, chances are they won’t be choosing to work for companies they feel are invasive or unfair (even if it’s just on the surface).

We’d love to hear from you about social media screening. When has it worked well for your company? Did you ever wonder if you crossed a line while searching someone’s profile? Has it ever backfired? The best way we can learn about hiring trends, topics and taboos is from you. Shoot us an email here or in the comments below.

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