I’ve written a lot in the past few years about the pros and cons of companies using social media to conduct background checks on applicants and employees (e.g., here and here). One issue I’ve never considered, however, is whether the social media site is a “consumer reporting agency” subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or the information compiled from such searches qualifies as a Consumer Report. The issue is significant, because if the social sites are CRAs, or their information are CRs, then employers who use these sites to conduct background searches are subject to the FCRA’s myriad pre- and post-screening notice, consent, and disclosure requirements.
Recently, a California federal court examined this very issue in Sweet v. LinkedIn Corporation [pdf], and concluded that LinkedIn’s Reference Search function does not render it subject to the FCRA.
Unlike other social sites, LinkedIn maintains a specific tool that helps employers’ reference checks—a premium tool called “Reference Search,” which creates “a list of people who have worked at the same company during the same time period as the member you’d like to learn more about.” More simply, Reference Search generates a list of potential employment references.
In Sweet, a group of unsuccessful job applicants argued that LinkedIn failed to comply with the FCRA in how it operates and maintains “Reference Search.” The court disagreed, concluding that LinkedIn’s Reference Search is not a Consumer Report under the FCRA.
LinkedIn’s publications of employment histories of the consumers who are the subjects of the Reference Searches are not consumer reports because the information contained in these histories came solely from LinkedIn’s transactions or experiences with these same consumers. The FCPA excludes from the definition of consumer report any “report containing information solely as to transactions or experiences between the consumer and the person making the report.”
In other words, because LinkedIn creates its databases solely from information submitted by its account holders, it falls outside the FCRA’s coverage.
While employers still have EEO concerns with the use of social networks for background checks, this case should give employers some relief, as it appears that the FCRA is one statute they needn’t worry about when using social media to vet candidates or for other employment purposes.