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10 Best Practices in Conducting Background Checks through the use of Social Media

Posted on June 5, 2015
Debbie SuttonWritten by Debbie Sutton | Email author

10 Best Practices in Conducting Background Checks through the use of Social MediaWe all want to ensure we hire the best candidate to fill our open positions.  In doing so, we try to gather all of the pertinent information on each candidate in order to make an informed, sound decision.   With that said, employers need to be proactive in regularly reviewing their background screening process so it is compliant with the latest federal and state regulations.  One growing area for conducting background checks is social media.  Employers have indicated social networks help find evidence of unprofessional behavior, such as complaints about previous employers or discussions of drug use.  Some employers go as far as requiring candidates to disclose their usernames, passwords, and other credentials providing employer access to their social network accounts.  There are several existing federal laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Stored Communications Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, may protect workers against discrimination and privacy violations related to social media.

Below are some guidelines for decision makers when navigating social media for the purpose of researching the background of potential candidates.

  1. Understand the risks. If a hiring manager views an individual’s social media profile, and that profile indicates the person is part of a protected class (e.g. age, race, disability, gender, etc.) then the employer could be at risk for a claim of hiring discrimination if an offer is not made.
  2. Develop a policy. Providing a written employment screening policy with guidelines and best practices for those involved in the hiring process may protect the employer from legal risks.  Failure to have a policy exposes the employer to liability risks and it does not provide managers boundaries for accessing subjective information and making inappropriate decisions.
  3. Search only public content about the candidate on the Internet. If employers are using social media as part of their background screening, they should only include a review of social media content that is public domain on the Internet.  Employers should not require the candidate to provide usernames, passwords or require them to “friend” the employer, or require them to log onto their accounts so the employer can gain access through their site during an interview.
  4. Assign someone to reviewing social content. In order to protect the employer and candidate, assign someone within the company as the designated reviewer of the social sites’ content to ensure comments about the candidate’s protected categories and activities are scrubbed before giving the information to the hiring manager or recruiter.  This will help avoid any issues with protected information from being revealed to the decision-maker.
  5. Be consistent with your searches. If the employer does search social media content, ensure those searches are done in a consistent manner by using the same websites and doing the same search on each candidate.
  6. Openness about using social media. Be transparent to the candidate about searching public content on the Internet in regards to the candidate.  There are instances where the social network profiles may not be authentic so verifying the identity of the candidate with their social networking profiles will help avoid this.
  7. Social media content should only be searched after the initial interview.
  8. Employers should not force a candidate to provide the company with access to their social media sites.
  9. Document the hiring decisions. This documentation is critical and should include nondiscriminatory, legitimate reasons for the hiring decision.
  10. Train hiring professionals. To avoid discriminatory activity, employers should train hiring professionals involved in the recruiting process about the employer’s social media search practices.

For some companies, the risks can outweigh the benefits of using social media for conducing background checks.  However, social media can provide good insight for employers if managed within certain parameters.  Helios HR offers employers services for navigating this daunting process.  We not only screen and vet candidates, but we conduct thorough background checks ensuring companies are presented with the best candidates.

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