Does Social Media Have a Place in Employment Screening?

By Michael Klazema on 10/25/2013

It's arguably the most common debate in the background check industry these days: should employers be allowed to trawl their applicants' social media profiles as part of pre-employment screening, or are social media employee background checks an unfair invasion of privacy? It's a complicated question, one with many different levels and nuances to consider before a proper answer can be arrived at. This summer, CareerBuilder, a popular website where applicants can post resumes, headhunters and recruiters can search for potential candidates for open positions, and where employers can post job descriptions, executed a survey asking employers about the use of social media applications in pre-employment screening processes.

According to the survey, more than 40 percent of managers in charge of vetting potential employees have chosen not to hire an applicant due to information the person put forth on their social media profile. And while the reasoning behind most social-media-indebted job rejections most references inappropriate Facebook photos, frequent talk of drugs or alcohol abuse, disparaging remarks about former employers, etc., the survey suggests that two in five hiring managers might be coming dangerously close to crossing ethical or legal boundaries.

Of course, some people find nothing unethical about choosing not to consider an applicant due to provocative social media behavior. The social media background checks trend grows stickier though when considering the fact that Facebook profiles and other online presences often reveal information that may consciously or subconsciously impact an employer's decision, including race, gender, sexual preference, religion or political affiliation. Whether or not such information affects an employer's decision varies in different cases, but if an applicant can prove discrimination and connect it to their social media profile, it means trouble for the hiring manager. For this reason and others, numerous states, including Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado have instituted legislation which regulates or prohibits different uses of social media profiles in employment screenings and background checks.

Since many job searchers have now caught on with the use of social media in employment screening, they have also implemented privacy settings that restrict what a potential employer can see of their Facebook profiles or Twitter feeds. Employers who ask applicants to disclose usernames or passwords, or make any effort to get past pointed privacy settings-including asking applicants to show their social media profiles during job interviews-are now at risk of breaking the law in numerous states. But when potential employees make their profiles with inappropriate photos, status messages, and comments available for the whole world to see, hiring managers appear within their legal rights to view that content and use it as part of an employee screening process. Some hiring managers are honest with applicants about their intentions to do a social media checks and include it, in writing, on the job application, identifying which aspects of a social media profile they take into account (photos, statuses, info related to job qualifications) and which they don't.

But being able to do the social media background check doesn't make it a a preferred screening solution. has identified nine problem areas with social media checks that make us recommend against using them. Various other screening options, like employment, education, reference, and professional license verifications, can help verify or uncover many of the qualities and traits employers now head to social media for to find out.


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