Social Media Research by Employers

Employers Run Risks by Researching Potential Employees on Facebook

There are significant risks for employers who use Facebook and other social media to research potential employees.

According to one study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University a small percentage of employers, between ten percent and a third of companies, use social media to research potential employees. While most employers are likely to deny that they violate discrimination laws, the study suggests that researching social media information may result in unlawful discrimination, whether consciously or not.

Information that potential employees post may present or suggest factors that if used to disqualify them from employment might violate federal and state laws designed to prevent specific acts of discrimination. Such information may be used intentionally by potential employers or unconsciously may influence hiring decisions. Once the employer has the information, particularly when that information relates to gender, religious preferences, age, marital status, or sexual orientation, it may prove a liability in any defense against unlawful discrimination.

A second more recent study conducted by North Carolina State University presents another liability of using social media research for potential employees: it alienates the very individuals that the employer seek to hire. Will Stoughton, a Ph.D. student at the university and the lead researcher, notes that the hiring process is an applicant’s first impression of an employer and serves to indicate how the employer treats its employees. Further, he suggests that if potential employees believe an employer has compromised their personal privacy it will place the employer at a competitive disadvantage for quality personnel.

One might question whether a potential employee should have any expectation of privacy for information shared on social media, particularly since they determine what information to share and with whom. However, legislation was proposed in North Carolina during this past year to prevent employers from requiring applicants to disclose access information for social media accounts precisely because the practice of using social media as a research tool so has gained momentum.

According to the study, most participants deemed the act of accessing their Facebook profiles by potential employers to be inappropriate even when that information is public. Further, they reported a negative impression of the company for doing so.

In the end, using social media as a screening tool can create more liabilities than benefits for employers. Employers may be well served to develop and enforce human resource policies that seek information directly from applicants, former employers and references instead of resorting to research tactics used by private investigators.

Ivie Law Firm can help you design and implement human resource policies and procedures to avoid unlawful discrimination, potential litigation and alienation of personnel. Call, email or use the Contact Form for additional information.