We know you probably snoop a candidates’ credentials online. Social media screening happens all the time, even though it could land you in a heap of trouble. As employers reliance on social media and networking sites for vetting applicants grows stronger, our court system is desperately trying to play catch up.

The National Law Review examines this with a recent article about a federal court filing against professional networking site LinkedIn Corp. The filing is the most current example of the blurred line between online social snooping and employment law
implications. The plaintiffs – all people who claimed they didn’t get jobs after potential employers used LinkedIn’s Reference Searches function – argued that LinkedIn should be considered a consumer reporting agency (aka a background screening company) because of a reference report service it provides to certain paying LinkedIn subscribers (like the employers). The argument was that by providing these reference reports LinkedIn was within the confines of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the chief governing law of the screening industry. Therefore, because they collected money for reference reports and distributed them to third parties, LinkedIn acted as a CRA. Additionally, because they failed to provide compliance disclosure and other mandatory reporting requirements, they violated the FCRA.

LinkedIn has never defined itself nor portrayed itself as a CRA. It moved to have the case dismissed based on the plaintiffs’ broad interpretation of the statute, and a federal judge agreed. The gist of the ruling is that LinkedIn’s reports are not “consumer reports” and that any information shared by the company was voluntarily provided by LinkedIn users who knew it was going to be published and shared online.

Here, according to lexology.com, are the judges’ reasons for the ruling:

  • The publications of employment histories of the searched members are not consumer reports because they came solely from LinkedIn’s transactions with these same consumers (that is, the purpose of LinkedIn is for consumers to “share their professional identities online”).
  • A “consumer reporting agency” regularly assembles or evaluates consumer credit/background information for the purpose of furnishing reports to third parties—whereas, the function of LinkedIn is to “carry out consumers’ information-sharing objectives.”
  • That Because the search results come from people in the searchers’ networks, and not the searched members’ networks, the results do not indicate that the searched member is well-connected in the industry.
  • LinkedIn does not market the results of the search as a source of reliable feedback about job candidates and, therefore, plaintiffs cannot establish that the results themselves are used or intended to be used to determine a searched member’s eligibility for employment.

The lesson here, however, is to be careful where you snoop because what’s okay today may not be tomorrow.

What do you think of the judge’s ruling? We’d love to hear your experiences using LinkedIn both as a networker and a consumer. Send us your comments below!

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