I had expected to find lots of pages with a title like “Five Tips for Using Social Media When Hiring.” I found some of those, of course, but I found a lot – and I mean dozens – of articles and blog posts on legal issues surrounding hiring via social media. And I thought the world of staffing software was legally complicated…
I’ve written previously about the importance of using social networks when recruiting. After all, a social network is like any other network, and staffers have always relied on networks – their own and their friends’ – to find good applicants. I stand by this, and I can’t imagine any lawyer having a problem with it.
But I was surprised to find that whether applicants have an expectation of privacy with regard to the content they post on social media sites is an unsettled area of the law. After all, I thought, social media is inherently public. If you don’t want people to know about something, don’t write about it in a blog, Facebook post, tweet, or whatever. Simple, right?
Not quite. As one lawyer pointed out, employers are generally prohibited from inquiring about an applicant’s race, political affiliation, marital status, sexual orientation or disability status. But most of this information is readily available if someone has a Facebook account. So a potential employer can’t ask about such things, but they can know them, which means…what? They shouldn’t use such information when hiring, but what’s to stop them?
Another lawyer noted that many employers have established clear policies about using internet-related information when making employment decisions – policies which, he points out, were worked out in conjunction with a labor lawyer. Some policies include a general disclosure (“We may review information we find on social network sites”), and some reaffirm that they do not discriminate on the basis of X, Y Z, A, B, and C even if those things are known via social networks.
It’s worth noting that such legal concerns don’t seem to be worrying a lot of companies. According to a CareerBuilder survey of 2,600 employers in 2009, 45 percent reported using social media sites in an attempt to research a candidate with another 11 percent planning to begin utilizing social media account reviews this year. And a surprising 35 percent said that they had relied solely on a candidate’s social media site when deciding to hire him (or her) or not. (Take note, applicants!) I can only imagine that those numbers have gone up in the last two years.
How will you augment your staffing software with social media? Whatever you do, think it through first. I won’t recommend calling a lawyer, but neither will I say that that’s a bad idea. Again, think it through. And be careful.
Stay tuned for the latest developments in this field and, of course, in the field of staffing solutions. Now that I’ve starting writing on this topic, I can tell that I won’t be able to stop. If you come across interesting cases and/or commentaries, please send them to me or leave a comment below.