The Evolving Practice of Social Media Background Screening

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Even with unemployment rates in the United States hovering around 8 percent, employers are still challenged by talent acquisition. In its 2013 Employment Screening Benchmarking Report, HireRight reports that finding, hiring and retaining talent remains employers’ top business challenge – a continued trend over the last several years.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that employers are always looking for new methods to help them find the best candidates for open positions. As use of social media broadens, and potential employees engage with their networks via sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, organizations are increasingly turning to these sites to locate talent.

In fact, HireRight’s 2013 Employment Screening Benchmarking Report reveals that 61 percent of employers use, or plan to use, social media to help them recruit candidates.

social media employee background check

Source: HireRight 2013 Employment Screening Benchmarking Report

While social media has quickly gained popularity as an established part of the overall recruitment effort, employers are still hesitant about its role in the employment screening process.

A little more than a fifth (21 percent) of respondents to HireRight’s survey indicated that they use, or plan to use, social media as part of the background check – a slight drop from the previous year’s rate of 24 percent.

Employers’ reluctance to use social media as part of the background screening process may be due to a number of factors, including a deficit of established legal guidance, concerns over candidate privacy, and uncertainty regarding best practices around the issue.

That said, there are some suggested best practices your organization should take into account if it already uses, or is considering using, social media as part of its employee background screening process:

1. Understand the Risks
If a hiring manager views an individual’s social media profile, and the profile indicates that person is part of a protected class (e.g., age, race, disability, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.), then the organization may be at risk for a claim of hiring discrimination if an offer is not made. Social media background screening risks are compounded because most hiring managers have easy access to social media networks and most web browsers capture and store viewing history.

Employers may consider limiting hiring decision maker’s use of social media, and educating all human resources personnel about the inherent risks of social media background screening. Consult with your legal counsel to assess and mitigate your organization’s social media background screening risk. Consider the on-site privacy policies of sites like Facebook and Twitter in your approach.

2. Develop a Policy
A written employment screening policy is the foundation of every successful background screening program. A policy protects an organization from legal risks by outlining background screening practices and provides guidance to human resources personnel who are conducting background checks. Of those employers who do use social media during background screening, 76 percent do not have any defined policy regarding this practice.

Without a social media screening policy in place, an organization may be exposed to liability risks, such as discrimination lawsuits. Failing to address social media background screening also means that hiring managers may be using subjective information found online to inappropriately limit their hiring options.

3. Watch the Legislative and Legal Landscape
As the practice of social media background screening becomes more common, stay tuned to legal and legislative developments around the issue. There are several existing federal laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Stored Communications Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, that may protect workers against discrimination and privacy violations related to social media.

A handful of states have also enacted legislation barring employers from accessing workers’ private accounts. Additionally, two U.S. senators have requested that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and U.S. Department of Justice investigate employer use of social media. Legal precedent is still evolving in this area and with the help of their legal counsel, employers should stay apprised of future developments.

Employers today are at a unique crossroads of leveraging the ever-growing phenomenon of social media for identifying and recruiting future employees, while still remaining leery of the technology’s role in the background screening process. For those organizations that are currently using, or are just considering using, social media as part of the background check process, there are some best practices that may help them navigate this situation.

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HireRight is a leading provider of on-demand employment background checks, drug and health screening, and electronic Form I-9 and E-Verify solutions that help employers automate, manage and control background screening and related programs.

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