New York City Considering Ban on Social Media Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 9/30/2013
After successfully completing three rounds of interviews, New Yorker Sarah De Stefano faced a dilemma. Her prospective employer asked her to add their background check investigator as a friend on Facebook, but De Stefano wasn't sure she wanted to share private posts and photos meant only for her family and friends with a total stranger. De Stefano elected not to add the investigator as a friend, and ultimately she did not get the job.

"I honestly have nothing to hide", said De Stefano. “I just didn't feel comfortable with it."

De Stefano's feelings are shared by many job seekers across the country. In the past two years, laws preventing employers from requiring that job candidates provide access to non-public information on social media sites have been passed by 14 states. Over 20 other states, including New York state, are considering similar measures.

New York City officials don't seem content to wait for the state to act on this issue. This month, the City Council discussed a plan introduced by Councilwoman Annabel Palma. The proposed plan would prevent employers from even asking job applicants and current employees to accept background check investigators as friends. Employers would also be prevented from asking workers to provide passwords, change privacy settings, or do anything that would enable the employer or their representative to view information not intended for the general public. Employers who violate these rules could be fined by the city and sued by the affected individuals.

The reasoning behind these types of social media privacy laws is that individuals often post comments about their health, religious beliefs, and other personal matters when interacting with their friends and family on social media. If an employer were to access this information, they could learn things that they are not legally permitted to ask about during a job interview and potentially use this information to make an unfair hiring decision.

An employer can really get a significant amount of information they need to make a wise hiring decision through a normal criminal background check like the US OneSEARCH from This national background check tool compares an individual's name and date of birth against a collection of over 450 million public criminal records taken from state and local databases throughout the country.

With any background check process, employers are still responsible for using the information contained in the background check report in a fair manner. For example, employers are not expected to rely solely on arrest data, because arrests are not proof of guilt. Also, employers must consider the nature of the crime, the time passed since the conviction, and whether it has any bearing on the specific job responsibilities at hand.


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