The Facebook Background Check: Using Social Media to Vet Candidates
A: An employer can learn, for example, that a candidate demonstrates poor communications skills, has lied about his or her qualifications, posted inappropriate comments, trashed a former employer, or divulged corporate confidential information, any one of which could legitimately disqualify the candidate from further consideration. Conversely, an employer can discover that a candidate is creative, demonstrates solid communication skills, has received awards or accolades, or is well regarded or recommended by his or her peers.
A: Despite the legitimate information an employer can discover about job applicants through social media and other websites, conducting such informal Internet background checks carries risks. First, information uncovered through Internet social media may be unreliable and unverifiable. Further, there is a genuine risk that an Internet search will disclose “protected” information such as age, sex, race, religion or medical information.
A: Consider the following example: Jane Doe submits a job application to ABC Corp. The hiring manager types her name into the Facebook search bar. What happens if the search reveals that Ms. Doe belongs to a breast-cancer-survivor group? If ABC declines to interview Ms. Doe, or hires another candidate, it is opening itself up to a claim that it failed to hire her because it regarded her as disabled or because of her genetic information. Now, the company is placed in the unenviable position of having to defend its decision not to hire Ms. Doe. It may be very difficult for the company to refute a claim that the hiring decision had nothing to do with its discovery of her medical information.
A: Reports that some employers are requiring job applicants to turn over their Facebook passwords as part of the hiring process have been reported in the media, and the outrage against such a practice so great that some United States senators are calling for action to outlaw it. Three states—Maryland, Illinois and California—have already passed legislation banning it, and many other states (including Ohio) are considering similar legislative prohibitions. Facebook has also officially weighed in on this issue, via a post on its blog by its Chief Privacy Officer, which asserts that it is “a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.”