Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Social media background checks : off-duty conduct laws :: oil : water

2zibgjtvOne report suggests that as many as 91% of employers use social networking sites to screen potential employees, with as many as 69% of employers rejecting a candidate because of information discovered on a social site. I’ve written before about some of the risks employers face when conducting background checks on employees via Facebook or other social media sites. Here’s one more risk for you to consider: off-duty conduct laws.

29 states have laws that prohibit employers from taking an adverse action against an employee based on their lawful off-duty activities:

  • 17 states have “smokers’ rights” statutes, which prohibit discrimination against tobacco users. (Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming)
  • 8 states have statutes that protect the use of any lawful product (e.g., tobacco or alcohol) outside of the workplace. (Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin)
  • 4 states have statues that protect employees who engage in any lawful activity outside of work. (California, Colorado, New York, and North Dakota)

What do these laws mean for employers’ online background searches? Businesses need to understand that reviewing Google or Facebook before making a hiring or firing decision is a risky proposition, which could reveal myriad lawful off-duty activities that could implicate one of these statutes (in addition to all sorts of protected EEO data).

My suggestion for a best practice? Either to hire a third party to do your searches for you, or to train an employee, insulated from the hiring process, to do them. In either case, the screener should scrub all protected information before providing any report to the the person responsible for making the hiring (or firing) decision.

Notice that Ohio is missing from the list of states with off-duty conduct laws. However, if you have operations in one of the 29 states that have do have these laws, you will want to pay close attention to this issue.