Several months ago I wrote about basing personnel decisions on an applicant's or employee's off-work online activities. Today, three articles on this same topic came across my screen that make this topic worth revisiting: Do Employers Using Facebook for Background Checks Face Legal Risks?; Facebook a risky tool for background checks, lawyers warn; and Employers may be searching applicants' Facebook profiles, experts warn.
These articles predict indefensible discrimination lawsuits and general gloom and doom for employers who use Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc., to conduct background checks on job applicants. They suggest that companies are unnecessarily risking liability in a landscape that is uncertain until courts are asked to lay down some rules on these issues.
What is going on here? I'm the first person to tell companies not to be the test case for emerging HR practices, and to let others blaze the trail by defending the inevitable lawsuits. I just can't see how a company can face liability if it non-discriminatorily looks for information on job applicants on the web. People put this information in the public domain for anyone and everyone to see. It's one thing if employers use Internet searches to pre-screen job applicants before the interview process. That's a big no-no, for the same reason we no longer ask job applicants to submit photos -- it reveals demographic information that an employer could use to screen out certain minorities, genders, and other protected groups. Once a company decides to consider an applicant and actually meets the person, those concerns disappear.
A couple of helpful pointers for companies to consider. As with all personnel practices, it is best to have a written policy for supervisors, managers, and others involved in the hiring process to follow. That policy should make clear that Internet sources cannot be checked until after a job applicant has been interviewed, and that if a search is going to be conducted for one applicant for a position, it must be done for all. It also not a bad idea to put a disclaimer somewhere on the job application stating that publicly available Internet sources may be checked post-interview as part of consideration process.