The Résumé and References Check Out. How About Social Media?
Via The New York Times : The human resources department at my company (a nonprofit with about 100 employees) is extremely concerned with avoiding hiring factors that might get us into trouble legally. So obviously they don’t ask candidates about age, marital status and so forth. But they also do not look at a potential employee’s social media.
After an offer was made to a candidate for a management position, I was alerted to comments she made on social media that are offensive not only to me, but probably to many of our potential clients. Is there really a good reason to avoid checking social media during the hiring process? ANONYMOUS
Many employers do consider such material before deciding whether to hire someone, and a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that the trend is growing. This is frequently seen as an issue for job seekers, who are advised to go over their social media posts with an eye for potential offensiveness. But looking at the issue from an employer’s perspective also raises questions, both legal and practical.
Lisa Bertini, whose firm, Bertini Law, in Virginia Beach, specializes in employment law, said she had been hearing from more human resources departments wondering how they should, and can, use social media as a screening factor.
There is little case law to date, Ms. Bertini said, so employers are wise to be cautious — but, she added, they needn’t overreact. The main risk, she said, is in drawing conclusions based on social media that result in decisions that would be legally problematic under any circumstances: rejecting a candidate as a result of learning of her pregnancy, for instance.
Yet flat-out blindness to a potential employee’s public social media presence seems, at this point, like overkill. If a candidate who describes himself as a people person in a job interview is simultaneously posting overtly bigoted comments on a Twitter or Facebook account that’s visible to everyone on the Internet, that’s a defensible reason (legally and morally) for not making him your new sales representative.
“It’s going to surface, and you’re going to have to deal with it one way or another,” Ms. Bertini said. “So why not deal with it when you still haven’t hired the person?”
That said, much depends on the details. Snooping on nonpublic social media material (by becoming friends on Facebook with a candidate to get access to more private posts, for instance) seems unethical at best. And even relevant public material might be treated not as a deal killer, but as something to discuss. (So far, research aimed at figuring out how well a social media profile predicts actual worker attributes, good or bad, has yielded mixed results.)
Ms. Bertini checks sources like LinkedIn and public Facebook profiles when screening candidates for jobs at her firm, and recalls one who seemed promising but had a questionable profile picture. When asked, the candidate agreed that it projected the wrong image, and changed it. She got the job and has proved “phenomenal,” Ms. Bertini said.
In the above situation — being “alerted” to a job candidate’s potentially offensive social media comments — you should proceed with care. If those comments are truly public and raise legitimate concerns about a potential negative impact on your company, it seems fair to bring them to H.R.’s attention. Then let those in charge of hiring decide how to proceed.
But if you know about these questionable comments only because you happen to be in touch with somebody who has access to the person’s more private online expressions, you might think twice. A basic litmus test might be: How comfortable would you be explaining exactly how you know about the comments?
In other words, social media has to be treated with the same nuance as real life — because these days, that’s what it is.
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